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Milne Library SUNY Geneseo Subject Guides

Copyright for Teachers and Scholars: Using Others’ Work in Your Teaching

Rules of Thumb for Using Others' Works in Your Teaching

Many of the ways that faculty use copyrighted materials as a part of courses or classes are permissible under the classroom use exceptions or fair use. However, not all “educational use” is allowed without permission from the copyright holder.

Faculty members bear the legal responsibility for complying with copyright laws and obtaining copyright permission from the copyright owner. Use the guidelines below, conduct a fair use analysis, or contact a librarian (see the form at the bottom of the page) to ensure that your use of copyrighted materials is permissible.

Whenever possible, provide a direct link to an article or book chapter already licensed by the library on the publisher’s (e.g., ScienceDirect) or aggregator’s (e.g., JSTOR) website. 

For works you cannot link to directly: 

  • Limit reserve materials to the minimum needed to serve your purpose. Typically, this will mean single articles or chapters; several charts, graphs, or illustrations; or other small parts of a work; a small part of the materials required for the course.
  • Be sure to include:
    • any copyright notice on the original and appropriate citations
    • attributions to the source
    • a Section 108(f)(1) notice*
  • Limit access to students enrolled in the class and administrative staff as needed. Terminate access at the end of the class term.
  • Obtain permission for copyrighted materials that will be used repeatedly by the same instructor for the same class.

If copyright permission is needed, you may either directly ask the copyright holder (not necessarily the author) or obtain permission via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Fair Use

Use of copyrighted information must be used with permission, or based on the Fair Use provisions of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. The principle of “fair use” is established in 17 USC Section 107, which states that the reproduction of copyrighted works for certain limited, educational purposes does not constitute copyright infringement. 

Faculty are responsible for complying with copyright.

To determine whether copyright permission is needed for Electronic Reserves, faculty should keep in mind that the following four factors are considered in the determination of fair use:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. Copying by non-profit institutions for educational use weighs in favor of fair use.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work. Published factual materials (such as texts, journal articles, treatises, etc.) rather than creative and fanciful works (such as novels, short stories, plays, etc.) weigh in favor of fair use.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Quantity must be evaluated relative to the length of the entire original and the amount needed to serve a proper objective. The substantiality concept (“the heart of the work”) is a qualitative measure that may weigh against fair use.
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. If copying the work results in the loss of licensing or royalty fees this may weigh against fair use.

Faculty may refer to the rules of thumb above, the online fair use evaluator at the link below, or seek assistance from a librarian in making a fair use determination.

Works That May Not Require Copyright Permission

Works in the public domain are no longer under copyright and do not require permission of the (former) copyright holder for any use. [Note that use of this work without proper attribution will still be considered plagiarism.]

  • All copyrights dated earlier than 1923 have expired. Copyrights dated 1923 or later may have expired.
  • Works published prior to January 1, 1978, without copyright notices may be reproduced without restriction.

Additional material, no matter the age, may be in the public domain.

  • U.S. government publications are considered as being within the public domain. However, some government publications, including those prepared by outside authors on contract, may require permission for use.
  • Works published prior to 1978 that have never been copyrighted may be within the public domain. Note, however, that the absence of a copyright notice will not be taken to mean that the work is not protected by copyright.

Some works have been licensed for re-use by others. Look for a Creative Commons license.


* This copyright notice should be included with any copy of copyrighted work.

Copyright Law
Sec. 108(f)(1)
“Copying, displaying and distributing copyrighted works may infringe the owner’s copyright. The University’s policy statement on fair use can help you determine whether your use of a copyrighted work may be an infringement. Any use of computer or duplicating facilities by students, faculty or staff for infringing use of copyrighted works is subject to appropriate disciplinary action as well as those civil and criminal penalties provided by federal law.”