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Copyright and Fair Use: Home


COVID-19 Copyright Updates

The COVID-19 pandemic affected many things, including guidelines for using copyrighted materials in teaching and learning. Here's what has changed and what hasn't:

You have a strong fair use argument for using copyrighted materials to advance public health and medical education during an emergent crisis.

Fair use allows the use of copyrighted materials in certain circumstances to advance public and cultural interests. A fair use argument is based on four factors: purpose of the use, amount used, nature of the work, and economic impact of the use. Educational purposes already weigh heavily in favor of fair use, and medical education during a public health crisis is a very strong case. In some cases, there is simply not enough time to get permission and the public interest outweighs the copyright holder's individual rights.

That said, the leeway is not unlimited.

What would definitely have been considered "fair use" when multiple institutions were switching rapidly to online learning out of necessity may not be an open-and-shut case when online learning is "the new normal." Your spring course had to shift online halfway through and you needed to add some videos to substitute for labs you could no longer conduct? Fair. You're planning your fall course? You have time to get permission if you need to.

Copyright standards are much stricter for distance education than for face-to-face instruction.

Face-to-face instruction allows for much more spontaneous use of copyrighted material. Distance education is regulated by the TEACH Act, which limits the amount of material that can be used and requires instructors to:

  • provide a copyright notice
  • use technological measures to ensure that only students in the course have access
  • limit access to the material to the amount of time it is relevant for instruction
  • restrict the ability of students to retain or redistribute the materials
  • only digitize works that do not have an existing licensing mechanism

This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers the basics. A more comprehensive tutorial on copyright and plagiarism for faculty can be found here. Please feel free to contact Kelli Hines or University Counsel if you have specific copyright questions. You can view WesternU's copyright policy here

Guide Introduction

Do you have questions about copyright? Don't we all! It can seem like a very complex topic at first, but this guide can help by addressing common questions you might have. Copyright and Fair Use Basics gives you a general overview, while In the Classroom gives you practical guidelines about how you can respect the rights of the creator and still meet your educational goals. Journal Clubs addresses common copyright issues and best practices for journal clubs.

If you have more questions, you can contact Kelli Hines or University Counsel. You can view WesternU's copyright policy here

What is copyright?

Copyright is "a property right in an original work of authorship (such as a literary, musical, artistic, photographic, or film work) fixed in any tangible medium of expression, giving the holder the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, and display the work."

Garner, B. (Ed.). (2001). Black's Law Dictionary (2nd Pocket ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Group.

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