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Using Materials

In the academic setting we all use copyrighted materials in a number of different ways for various purposes. We use material for research and teaching, but also for entertainment and social purposes. This links below provide information on some issues that may come up when using copyrighted works in your school or personal life.

Non-Print Items
Can I show a video in my class? Can I include photographs or music in a presentation for my class?<

Under the face-to-face teaching exception in Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, a lawful copy of a video may be shown in a classroom or similar place at a nonprofit educational institution. The same is true for performance of music or display of images.

What if I want to transmit a video or image over the Internet for teaching purposes?

The rules for transmitting video, images, and other works over digital networks for educational purposes are complex, but under Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act a digital transmission may qualify as an exception if:

  • The work is not one that was made and marketed mainly for distance learning;
  • The work was lawfully made and acquired, or one should reasonably believe the work was lawfully made and acquired;
  • The teaching is at an accredited, non-profit educational institution;
  • The transmittal is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of “mediated instructional activities”;
  • The transmission includes the performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work, or “reasonable and limited” portions of any other work, or displayed in an amount comparable to what is typically displayed in a live classroom session;
  • The performance or display of the work is directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content; and
  • The transmission is for students officially enrolled in the class and technology is used to limit the transmission to those students, as much as possible.
In addition, the educational institution must comply with the following:
  • Must have in place policies and resources that encourage following copyright law;
  • Copyright notices should be in place for materials;
  • The institution must use technological measures to insure that students cannot retain work beyond the class session and cannot distribute work further; and
  • The institution should not decrypt or use other technology to defeat technological measures the copyright holder has employed to prevent copyright infringement.

What about copying clips or short portions of DVDs to make compilations for classroom use?

Most commercially available DVDs are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) software that prevents you from copying the video. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits the breaking of DRM except in certain specific cases. These exceptions are intended to allow for uses that would be legal if the user did not have to circumvent DRM. The DMCA also requires that these exceptions be reviewed every 3 years for renewal, as well as examining newly proposed exceptions.

In 2012, an exception to the DMCA digital locks prohibition on breaking the DRM on DVDs was approved for certain specific circumstances. This exception allows any college or university professor or student to break DRM on a DVD in order to use short clips from the DVD to create new educational materials for the purpose of comment or criticism. The professor or student still needs to consider fair use when deciding how much of a DVD is needed to accomplish the educational use of the video.

Peer to Peer
What is P2P file sharing?

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) refers to a network protocol that allows users to share files with other users who are utilizing the same software. P2P can be used to quickly and easily share or download large files. There are a number of popular P2P protocols including Bittorrent, Fasttrack, eDonkey, and Gnutella.

Is P2P file sharing legal?

While there are a number of legal uses of P2P networks, unfortunately a lot of the material that is shared/downloaded through P2P networks is copyrighted and is not obtained or provided legally. Unless you own the copyright on the works you share or are given express permission by the copyright owner it may be illegal to share or download copyrighted materials.

Are there risks to using P2P file sharing?

There are a number of potential risks to using P2P. These include potential copyright infringement, for which you could lose access to the university network and/or be sued by the copyright owner. You could also have malware or viruses placed on your computer. It is also possible to accidentally share personal information if you do not properly set up your account. The resources below provide more information on the risks of P2P and some precautions to take when using P2P networks.

Peer to Peer File Sharing: The Office of the CIO provides information on the safe use and risks of P2P software.

P2P File-Sharing Risks:, a cooperative of a number of Federal Government agencies, has created this resource to explain the potential dangers of using P2P software.

Where can I find more information on file sharing?

If you would like to find out more about P2P file sharing, there are many helpful resources available:

File Sharing from The Electronic Frontier Foundation: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a collection of articles about file sharing including information on recent court cases and proposed legislation.

A University Computer Users' Guide to Peer-to-Peer File Sharing: from the University of Arizona.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) File Sharing & Copyright Safety: Helpful P2P information from Indiana University.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using another person's words or ideas without acknowledgment.

What are some examples of plagiarism?

Plagiarism includes actions such as submitting a paper you have not written and saying it is your own; copying answers or text from someone else; and quoting, citing data, or using someone else's ideas without crediting the source.

What are some of the consequences of plagiarism?

The plagiarist can face charges of academic misconduct even if the person whose work he or she copied did not know about the plagiarism or did not object to it. In addition, the plagiarist loses the chance to develop his or her ideas and do the learning that exercise involves.

How can I avoid plagiarism?

Use quotation marks and ellipses when quoting directly. When you summarize material, restate it in your own words and credit the source.

Is plagiarism the same as copyright infringement?

No. Plagiarism is breaking an ethical code and can lead to discipline from the university. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is breaking a federal law and can lead to an expensive trial and costly fines. It is possible to commit plagiarism without committing copyright infringement. For example, you could use a work that is not protected by copyright, such as a public domain work, or you could use a portion of someone else's copyrighted work that is small enough not to constitute infringement. Failing to properly cite the creator of a work does however weaken your claim of fair use.

Resources on plagiarism


What should I do if my use is not covered by an exception and the material is not in the public domain?

If your use of a copyrighted work is not covered by an exception, or does not fall within the public domain, you may still contact the copyright holder and seek permission to use the work. You may also consider whether your use would be protected under fair use.

How do I get permission to use a work?

The first step in seeking permission to use a work is identifying the owner of the copyright. The owner of the copyright may be the author, or the owner may be the author’s employer or any other individual to whom the author has transferred ownership. Once you have identified the owner you may then begin the process of requesting permission. Visit the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University to see procedural steps for securing permission and to view sample permission forms.

Orphan Works
What is an orphan work?

Sometimes it is not possible to find who owns the copyright to a work. This often happens with older works that are out of print but are possibly still protected by copyright. If you cannot figure out who the owner is or if the work is still protected, this is what is known as an orphan work.

Can I use copyrighted material from an orphan work?

Dealing with orphan works can be difficult. There are times that you really need to get permission in order to use a work. If you can not find the copyright owner to ask for permission, you need to rely on fair use or other exceptions to cover your use of the work. As of now there really is not a viable option for using orphan works when a specific exception does not apply.

Congress has looked at developing a revision to the Copyright Act to deal with orphan works on a number of occasions, but has not yet passed any legislation. In October, 2012, the U.S. Copyright Office asked for comments from the public in order to further study the situation with orphan works. The Copyright Office is interested in how orphan works are being handled, what problems individuals and groups are having in dealing with them and what possible solutions there may be to the current orphan works situation. They have not released their report yet.

Resources on orphan works

U.S. Copyright Office’s Orphan Works page

Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge - Comments on Orphan Works and Mass Digitization

Library Copyright Alliance - Comments Concerning Orphan Works and Mass Digitization

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Information contained in the following webpages has been adapted from the Copyright Resources Center at The Ohio State University Libraries and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

This website presents information about copyright law. The LRC make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but does not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

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