Can I use copyrighted material that I find online as course materials for the classes I teach?

There are specific exemptions in U.S. copyright law for educational use of copyrighted material. Under Section 110(1) of the copyright law, you can use copyrighted material, including digital works, at a “non-profit educational institution” for face-to-face teaching in a regular class.  

The TEACH Act of 2002 includes comparable exemptions for online instruction. There are numerous conditions required to be fully compliant with the TEACH Act. UT Austin has a checklist that lists all the conditions to which the TEACH Act can be applied.

An alternative to dealing with copyright restrictions is to look for high-quality “open” educational materials -- those that are properly designated as free to use -- as well as other materials with Creative Commons licenses, where the copyright owner indicates exactly how the material can be reused.  

Can I use copyrighted material that I find online in my dissertation?

Materials on the Internet have the same copyright restrictions as printed materials. You can use copyrighted material that you find online if:

  1. you have been granted permission;
  2. the material has a Creative Commons license or accompanying rights statement that specifies the reuse rights; OR
  3. you are applying fair use.

For more on whether a use is fair, see “What is fair use?” in the Copyright Basics section.

How do I obtain permission to use copyrighted material?

The most common option is to send an email or letter to the copyright owner explaining what you want to use and how you want to use it. Legal language is not required. Always save your communications pertaining to permissions. The UC Copyright website offers instructions for obtaining permission to use copyrighted work, including sample permission letters.

I like to share examples of model student work. Can I use the work of former students in my classes?

Students generally own the copyright over their work, but it might be possible to share anonymous excerpts of students’ work under fair use. Teaching assistants and faculty should either obtain a student’s permission before using student work in a course, presentation, publication, etc. or do a thorough fair use analysis.

How do I find material that is not copyrighted or does not require permission to use?

There are multiple options:

  • Material in the public domain is not protected under copyright. The date published, the country where the work was first published, and the date of the author’s death are some of the factors that determine whether a work is in the public domain. For more details see: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.
  • Works authored by the U.S. federal government are not protected by copyright in the U.S. The same rule does not apply to state government works or works produced by federal contractors rather than federal employees, but there is a rich body of federal government reports and images that may be useful for teaching and scholarship. See this collection of sources from the Library of Congress, or search the Flickr Commons.
  • Works with CC (Creative Commons) licenses can be reused (subject to the conditions in the license) without requesting permission from the copyright owner. There is CC licensed material all over the Internet. Start your search at Creative Commons. Look for icons similar to this:
    CC BY symbol

Also note that the UCSB Library provides online access to copyrighted materials for the UCSB community and encourages students, faculty and staff to use these materials for teaching and research. The Library can help you access ebooks, ejournals, streaming music videos, and more for your own research, or to add to online syllabi, GauchoSpace, or Course Reserves. To learn how to provide your students with access to the Library’s licensed content, go to the Course Reserves webpage. Your subject librarian and Course Reserves staff can work with you to find and provide easy access to Library materials for use in courses.

How do I find materials that are licensed under Creative Commons (CC)?

There is CC licensed material all over the Internet, but you can start your search at the Creative Commons website.

What do I do if my copyright is being infringed upon?

If it is a situation where the infringement act can be corrected, you can contact the person and request that they cease and desist. If you anticipate a legal dispute, the U.S. Copyright Office recommends that you register your copyright as soon as possible, if you haven’t already. The timely registration of a copyright allows you to pursue statutory damages such as monetary relief and the recovery of attorney fees. For more details see the infringement section of the U.S. Copyright Office website.

What about using course materials sites like Study Blue, etc.?

UCSB discourages students from using websites such as Study Blue, Studysoup, and Course Hero. Lecture notes, Powerpoint slides, and exams are copyrighted materials. Sharing such materials online without permission from the creator(s) is a violation of copyright law.

Furthermore, UC Policy 102.23 prohibits anyone, including students, from recording lectures or discussions and from distributing or selling lecture notes and all other course materials without the prior written permission of the instructor.

Websites that allow people to upload and share course materials usually include information on how to get these materials taken down under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Can I digitize copyrighted material for a study group or for a class that I’m teaching?

Digitizing something constitutes reproduction and even distribution, so generally speaking, you can only digitize material that is in the public domain or under an exception to copyright law, such as fair use.

What about using foreign materials, and what about international copyright laws?

Copyright terms differ from country to country. When in the United States, U.S. copyright law can be applied to works produced outside the United States. To read more about international copyright law see the U.S. Copyright Office's page on International Copyright.

Can I copy or scan an entire book?

Generally, no. Copying an entire book that is commercially available and that you don’t own would probably not be using the copyrighted material fairly because it would undercut the market for the book and the author’s earnings from the book. If you need a book, borrow or access the book from the Library, or purchase the book.

Can I make my reader available on electronic Course Reserves, GauchoSpace, or my course website?

Generally, no. Duplicating and distributing copyrighted material electronically are often regarded as violations of copyright law. As the UCSB Library Course Reserves webpage explains, “If you wish to make your course reader available to your students through the Library, you must submit to the Services Desk bound copies that have been packaged by a document duplication service.” The TEACH Act excludes course readers.

See the first FAQ in the list, “Can I use copyrighted material that I find online as course materials for the classes I teach?” for an explanation of the TEACH Act.

Read more information on Course Reserves Limitations and Copyright Restrictions.

It is very likely that articles or chapters in your course reader are available through UCSB Library’s vast collection of article databases and ejournal subscriptions. Consult the UCSB Library journals list or the UC Library Search to determine if the Library has already licensed the article(s) you want to use in your course. Using Library materials, whenever possible, can significantly reduce the cost of your course reader for students. Your subject librarian and Course Reserves staff can work with you to find and provide access to Library materials for use in courses.

Can I distribute an article to all the members of a listserv or discussion list, without permission from the copyright holder?

Generally, no. Distribution of any copyrighted material is often regarded as an infringement. However, providing a link to an article (as opposed to a copy of the article) is generally not considered an infringement. Of course, if the article is published in an open access journal or is licensed under a Creative Commons license, you can usually share it with anyone you like. See the Scholarly Communication page on Open Access to learn more.

Also note, if you are the author of the article and you are a UCSB employee, under the UC open access policies, you retain certain rights to your work published in subscription journals and can share your manuscript of the article or the article permalink in eScholarship. Some publishers will allow their authors to share the publisher’s PDF with a certain number of people.

Can UCSB Library make high quality scans of images that I want to use for my project?

The Library does not provide this service. It is the responsibility of faculty and students to conduct a fair use analysis or to request permission from the copyright holder in order to ensure they are not violating copyright when publishing images using the Library’s self-service scanners and copy machines.