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Copyright at VCSU: The Basics

For guidelines about copyright, fair use, and links to further resources.

What is Copyright?

The U.S. Copyright Act (title 17 of the U.S. Code) is the federal statute that describes copyright law in the United States. Copyright protection applies to original works of authorship set in a tangible medium. Original works may include literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural and audiovisual creations. A tangible medium may include anything from paper to hard drives and other electronic memory devices, the web, film, software, architectural blueprints etc.

What is protected under copyright?

Copyright protection is designed to give creators of original creative works the right to be compensated when others use their works in particular ways. It grants copyright holders with exclusive rights to the reproduction, adaptation (preparation of derivative works such as a translation or adaptation of a movie from a book), publication, performance and display of the work publicly. Today, copyright protection is automatic, so no registration, use of the copyright symbol, or notice is required. However, use of the copyright symbol is recommended because it reminds the public that the work is protected. Copyright registration is required before a lawsuit for copyright infringement can be filed. If the copyright is timely registered, the copyright owner can also recover statutory damages and costs and attorney fees which can be significant in an infringement lawsuit.

copyright symbolMembers of the Valley City State University community, including faculty, students and staff, often have occasion to use copyrighted material in connection with their teaching, classroom assignments or research. The purpose of this guide is to promote the understanding of and compliance with applicable provisions of copyright law. It provides practical information in order to encourage and promote the lawful use of copyright protected materials. This guide is also intended to support compliance with VCSU's V480.05 Copyright Guidelines and V530.01 Academic Integrity Policies.

*This guide has been adapted from Copyright LibGuides at Clemson University and the University of Florida.

Copyright Considerations for Instructors

Creating a new class? Reimagining an existing course? Uploading new materials to Blackboard? In general, you have leeway under U.S. Copyright Law to make resources available to support student learning and equitable access. A few tips:

Use what's out there.

Allen Memorial Library collections include thousands of books, articles, streaming videos, and other materials to support your teaching without having to worry about copyright. You can also take advantage of videos, images, and other content made available online under Creative Commons licenses, which allow for reuse with attribution. 

Leverage fair use.

Fair use is especially crucial in an online learning environment where U.S. Copyright Law exemptions are more limited.

Fair use is an explicit part of copyright law that allows all of us to repurpose portions of copyright-protected works in the context of education and scholarship. Questions to consider as you upload materials for your students or create online lessons include:

  • How does this material support my goals for student learning, and how am I contextualizing or transforming the material through lectures, assignments, etc.?
  • Am I using only enough of the material to meet these goals? This may range from a few pages to an entire work in some cases.
  • Is there a feasible way for students to access the material on the commercial market? Or is copying and sharing critical to their success in this course? 
  • More information about Fair Use is available on the Fair Use tab.
Lower risk with simple steps.

There are a few ways to share materials while easily lowering your risk of copyright infringement:

  • Link to content: In general, linking to online resources (where you can identify and trust the source) falls within the scope of fair use.
  • Limit distribution: When sharing materials, limit circulation to enrolled students. Remind them that the material is protected by copyright and shouldn't be distributed further.
  • Mind the time: If you are posting lectures, readings, etc. to Blackboard that contain copyrighted material, only make these available as long as necessary to meet the needs of your course.
  • When in doubt, ask! If you're not sure if your materials fall under fair use, we can help you learn more so that you can make those determinations.

Other options:

  • Use works in the public domain or works licensed under a Creative Commons license.
  • Ask the copyright holder for permission to use the work.
  • Have your students purchase copies.