For teachers – what you can copy under copyright law

Every year before fall semester starts, our school has a week of planning for faculty, which includes seminars on all kinds of education-related things. This year, I’m going to give a seminar on copyright in education. (I’m going to call it “Copyright Means I Can Copy It, Right?”) I’ve been doing the background research for it already, and I have learned a few things that I didn’t know. I thought I’d post them here in case it can help anyone else. (Or maybe I’m the only one that didn’t know this…??)

An instructor may make one copy of the following items for use in teaching or research:

  • A chapter from a book
  • An article from a periodical
  • A short story, essay, or short poem
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture

Multiple copies of the above items may be made if:

  • The amount of material copied is sufficiently brief (see below for definition of “sufficiently brief”)
  • The copying is done spontaneously (it was the instructor’s idea, not administration’s, and it is done close to the time that the material is actually used in the classroom)
  • The cumulative effect test is met (see below for explanation of “cumulative effect”)
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright
  • If students are charged for the copies, they are not charged more than the cost of making the copies

“Sufficiently brief” means:

  • For poetry, 250 words or less
  • For prose: If the original work is less than 2500 words, you can copy the whole thing. If the original is 2500 – 4999 words, you may copy up to 500 words. If the original is 5000 words or more, you may copy up to 1000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less.

The “cumulative effect test” is met if:

  • The copying is for only one course in the school where the copies are made
  • Not more than one poem, article, story or essay, or two excerpts are copied from the same author, or three from the same anthology
  • Not more than nine instances of multiple copying for one course during one term

The following guidelines also apply:

  • Multiple copies may not be made to substitute for purchase of books, reprints or periodicals; to create anthologies or compilations; or to substitute for or replace “consumable” works like workbooks, test booklets, etc.
  • The same instructor may not copy the same item from term to term.

Note: These are just guidelines!  They are not law.  However, following the guidelines may make a judge feel more inclined to agree with you if you get sued for copyright infringement.


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