University Libraries

Teaching: The Harder Stuff

Lawsuits & Legislation

Georgia State

While a few types of teaching uses are clearly permitted, many others are less clear. A lot of different factors come in to play, and instructors, even in similar situations, may make different choices about their uses.

Course Readings (and Listenings, and Viewings)

Many courses rely on articles and book excerpts as key instructional materials. Other courses may require image viewing, listening to music or other audio, or watching video content. In-class viewing is rarely a problem, and where the materials are already available publicly or via subscription, linking to online materials is also an easy option for instructors. But what if there aren't any easy access routes? Can instructors make hard copies for students, or upload files online?

Yes, sometimes.

Until quite recently, the answer to that question was unclear - many folks pointed to the 1990's "coursepack cases" (Basic Books Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphics Corp., 758 F. Supp. 1522 (S.D. N.Y. 1991); Princeton Univ. v. Michigan Document Servs., 99 F.3d 1381 (6th Cir. 1996)) as establishing the principle that all copies of course readings required permission and payment. However, those cases involved paper copies made by for-profit copy shops, and as it became more common for individual instructors to post readings online, some different interpretations arose. One clear counterpoint to the "all course uses need permission" argument is the specific language of the fair use statute, which singles out teaching as a purpose that favors fair use, "including multiple copies for classroom use." (17 USC § 107.)

In 2008, several academic publishers sued administrators at Georgia State University over files shared with students online. This case is ongoing, but the District Court opinion affirmed that some educational copying -is okay as a fair use-.

Many of the standard fair use factors are relevant to course-reading-copying. Educational copying is more likely to be a fair use when it uses a smaller proportion of the original work, when the portion used is key to the pedagogical purpose, when it causes little harm to the financial interests of publishers, and so on. Such copying is less likely to be fair use when it uses large portions of the original work (the Georgia State judge looked askance at copying more than 10%, or one chapter, of a book), when it has only tangential relationships to pedagogical purposes, or when it directly harms the publishers' finances.

If it does not seem like a fair use to copy something as a course reading - if you need students to read several chapters of a book or watch an entire movie outside of class sessions, for example - you may need to seek permission. At the University of Minnesota, the Copyright Permissions Center can help with that. Alternatively, you could provide original copies of the book or movie on reserve for students to check out and use on their own - it's less convenient than an online copy, but it doesn't raise copyright problems!



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