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Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright, Fair Use, and Teaching Online - Quick Tips

Moving face-to-face classes online brings with it the need to understand how copyright and fair use apply differently to online classes.  There are additional laws and regulations that apply to online classes.  

Fair Use & COVID-19

Fair use (17 U.S.C. § 107) lists the four factors that must be considered when copying portions of a work to upload onto a learning management system:

  • the purpose and character of the use;
  • the nature of the work;
  • the amount and substantiality of the work; and
  • the effect on the potential market. 

Given the current circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, the first factor about the purpose and character of the use (i.e. teaching) takes on more prominence.  However, this only applies to courses impacted by the pandemic (e.g. previously face to face courses having to move urgently online.)

Even under these conditions, the following steps need to be taken:

  • practice due diligence by first contacting the publishers to try and obtain permission or licenses for using large portions of copyrighted works.
  • provide access to the copyrighted work in a password-protected environment. 
    • Even under this condition, post a disclaimer that the works are only being provided in greater amounts due to the emergency created by COVID-19 pandemic and that students should destroy the excerpts once the class is concluded.


The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (“TEACH”) Act was enacted in November 2002 as an amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976. Under the Teach Act, accredited, nonprofit U.S. educational institutions are permitted to make certain copyright-protected materials available online to students, without having to obtain permission from the copyright holder. The TEACH Act’s exemptions are intended for distance learning purposes only. 

Faculty Responsibilities:

  1. The material must be provided at the direction of or under the supervision of an instructor and must be an integral part of the course curriculum (i.e., not merely entertainment or unrelated background material).
  2. The amount of material provided must be comparable to that typically displayed in a live classroom session. For certain works, the display of the entire work could be consistent with displays typically made in a live classroom setting (e.g., short poems or essays, or photographic images). Distribution of entire textbooks, course-packs or supplemental readings would not be authorized under the TEACH Act.
  3. You must provide notice to students that materials distributed in the course may be subject to copyright protection.

See The Original TEACH Act Toolkit from Louisiana State University Library for more information. 

What can I post in Canvas?

Here are a few tips and best practices for following copyright guidelines when using Canvas or other learning management systems.  Because content is only visible to current students and protected by a password, these guidelines are different than when posting on a public website.  

In general:

  • Follow Fair Use guidelines, i.e., excerpts of copyright works that are “in support of curriculum-based instructional activity.” When in doubt, use the ALA’s interactive Fair Use Evaluator.
  • Attribute copyright text and images to the original creator and copyright holder (if different), whenever possible. 
  • Link to outside websites rather than embedding or excerpting from them.

Articles and book chapters:

  • Get permission before posting – You must secure copyright permissions prior to posting content. Reposting of the same material for use in a subsequent quarter requires a new permission.
  • Link to articles or ebooks available in OC Libraries' digital resources.  Learn how to link directly to articles in databases.
  • Limit articles to one per journal issue and book chapters to one per book. 

Video and audio:

  • Embed only relevant clips from the portion of the longer work;
  • Link to longer audiovisual works and any works not obtained from the Library's online resources.


  • Use no more than 10% of the images in a published work, with a maximum of 15 from any single publication;
  • Some images, such as company logos, are protected by trademark rather than copyright; attribute these images to the trademark holder.

For more information, see Using Course Management Systems: Guidelines and Best Practices for Copyright Compliance from the Copyright Clearance Center.

Copyright Statement

Here is a recommended statement to include on or with each document that you are providing in Canvas if you do not have permission from the publisher or author.

“This scan is being provided as part of the Olympic College‘s effort to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. It is for your personal use only, and is only intended for use during the time when the College's public health measures prevent access to a copy on physical reserve at the Library. Please discard this copy once you have access to the physical copy at the Library, and do not share it.”

Online Alternatives

When it comes to previously-planned physical texts and course reserves materials, we are encouraging a motto of “first alternatives, then equivalents.”  We encourage all instructors to consider online alternatives to planned physical course texts and DVDs — alternatives include open textbooks, journals and articles, and e-books and streaming media already licensed by OC.

  • Use OneSearch.  After entering your search term, you can limit Availability to Available Online and Open Access. 
  • Search for EBSCO eBooks.  Note: some titles only allow for one user at a time. Contact Amy Herman (aherman@olympic.edu) with title requests.
  • Streaming videos from Kanopy and Swank – contact Amy Herman (aherman@olympic.edu) with title requests for feature films and documentaries.
  • Look for Open Educational Resources (OER.)  Our OER guide provides some resources for various subjects, but librarians can help you locate OER to meet your needs.  
  • Contact librarians@olympic.edu for assistance in finding alternatives or equivalents when possible. 

Additional Resources

Have questions? Contact librarians@olympic.edu.



  1. It's the law.
  2. Information ethics are not situational.
  3. We lead by example for our students and colleagues.
  4. It's the right thing to do.

Olympic College Policies

Olympic College's Copyright Policy informs students, faculty and staff about their rights and privileges in using copyright-restricted material, including the limited exclusive rights of copyright holders.

Olympic College's Intellectual Property Policy for Non-Academic Employees defines intellectual property rights parallel to those defined for academic employees in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the College and the Olympic College Association for Higher Education. See the Collective Bargaining Agreement webpage for the most recent document. 


Use Campus Resources:

Do-it-Yourself Tools:

Help page, for books, websites and the human who can help!

Creative Commons Copyright

Creative Commons License
Copyright and Fair Use for Faculty by Tracey Mayfield and Cathy Outten is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Interested in copyrighting your own work under Creative Commons? Go to their site.