Copyright and Academic Fair Use

Written by Alexis Alexander and Jill Ballard
April 3, 2017 • 3 minute read


As instructors and course designers at a non-profit university, we know the importance of Academic Fair Use and feel protected by it when including copyrighted material in our courses. If you've added the citation, you're ready to go, right?

Not really.

Per standard copyright and fair use policies, it is your responsibility as an instructor to confirm you have permission to convert media into digital formats and/or for online redistribution. Although USF cannot provide legal consultation on obtaining permission, Gleeson Library | Geschke Center has published a guide on Copyright and Teaching. This includes resources that can help determine if the appropriate permissions have or can be obtained. 

Current copyright law protects nearly all text, images, audio-visual recordings, and other materials, even if the original works do not include any statement about copyright. Copying and posting copyrighted works online, even for instructional purposes, may violate the legal rights of copyright owners. Nevertheless, instructors have several legal alternatives for teaching with protected and other works online, including:

  • Securing permission from the copyright owner
  • Linking to materials on other sights, rather than copying and pasting
  • Using material in the public domain
  • Lawfully using protected materials after a fair use analysis

(Source: Indiana University)

A common misconception is that third-party material repurposed for instructional purposes always falls under Fair Use since it is not being used for commercial purposes. While this may be true in certain cases, it is not a certainty. Fair Use is not all-inclusive, and understanding its parameters are important. From Title 17, Section 107 of this law states:

“In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

(Source: Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute)

What does this mean exactly? Academic Fair Use is the right to use portions of copyrighted work for educational purposes without permission. It’s specific enough and when followed, won’t invite legal action. However that said, for some copyright protected work, you will still need permission. You might show some excerpts from a film for example, for commentary or even parody, but using the whole film would invite greater risk. 

Your University Librarian is a great place to start. Librarians are typically highly skilled at finding learning resources that can be legally used in education. There’s a great chance that the library subscribes to one or more video libraries specifically for this purpose, such as the Digital Collection at USF's Gleeson Library.

Search the entire Web. To search reusable videos on all of the Internet, try using the Creative Commons search tool. This search engine allows you to search for various different media sites, and yet it will only find results that are available for reuse and modification if desired.

Search on YouTube. When searching YouTube, you can turn on the filter that searches for Creative Commons licensed videos. When uploading a video to YouTube, there are only two licensing options: 1) Standard YouTube license and 2) Creative Commons - Attribution. Therefore, any video on this site that has a Creative Commons license can be reused with attribution to the video owner.

(Source: Brightspace Blog – free login required)

To be sure you’re using copyrighted work correctly, visit USF’s guide on Using Copyrighted Works in the Classroom. Charlotte Roh, USF’s scholarly communication librarian, suggests using one of the four tools provided there to determine whether you can use a particular copyrighted work or not.

Again, the site emphasizes that it does “not provide legal advice, simply education and guidance. The tools use the information you provide it as well as your own judgment of the fairness of use.” You may also want to reference Stanford’s set of guidelines for what and how much under the section Rules for Reproducing Text Materials for Use in Class. At USF, if you find these materials in our library, USF has already negotiated permission for you to use it in your class.

Academic Fair Use is a flexible law — and allows for great authenticity in course materials — but it’s also one that can’t be taken for granted.

At the University of San Francisco, contact a Copyright Specialist at Gleeson Library for inquiries and to set up a consultation. You can also contact your School or College's dedicated librarian for consultations on Copyright and Academic Fair Use.

Not sure where to start? We're here to help.

For help with integrating copyrighted works into your curriculum, contact Instructional Design to request a consultation.

Contact Instructional Technologies & Training to schedule a training session and access self-guided training materials on educational technologies supported at the University of San Francisco.

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