Skip to content

Common Uses of Copyright in Education

The common uses of copyright-protected work with respect to UW faculty and staff generally fall under the exemptions provided for in copyright law.


In a university setting, there are three main exemptions to the exclusive rights of copyright owners that apply:

  • Fair use
  • Copying by libraries
  • Copying for classroom teaching


The exemptions for copying by libraries and for making copies for use in the classroom are fairly straightforward.

The fair use exemption, on the other hand, requires much interpretation and not everyone agrees on what constitutes a fair use.

The good news is that there are some guidelines to help define what many agree are reasonable fair uses of materials in certain activities that commonly take place in universities. The bad news is that the guidelines don’t cover all activities and there are few guidelines for putting materials on web pages. If you use any material owned by someone else, be sure and include the copyright notice or information on the author of the work and any other information on the source of the work.

Classroom Teaching

In UW classrooms you may:

  • Display a copyright work
  • Perform a copyright work
  • Make a single copy for an instructor
  • Make multiple copies for students in some limited circumstances

What can you use in the classroom without permission?

Display or Perform

Instructors and students can display or perform any copyright work in the classroom (this means a face-to-face teaching environment and excludes web-based or televised classrooms). For example, you can:

  • Show films and videos
  • Display photographs
  • Act or perform plays
  • Read poems
  • Display artwork
  • Play music
  • Show a web site

Books and Periodicals - Single Copy

An instructor may make a single copy of portions of books and periodicals for research, teaching, or class preparation. The allowable limits are:

  • A chapter from a book
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper
  • A short story, short essay, or short poem, whether or not from a collective work
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper

Books and Periodicals – Multiple Copies

An instructor may make multiple copies of portions of books and periodicals for students if:

  • The portion used is brief (refer to the guidelines for portion limitations)
  • The use is spontaneous and there is insufficient time to obtain permission, such as copying an article from the morning newspaper
  • The copying is not a recurring or systematic practice (see cumulative effect in the guidelines)
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright

What about other materials or other uses?

If your intended use is outside the limits of the guidelines or the exemption, you should look at the four-factor test for fair use or consider obtaining permission for your use.

Televised Instruction

Televised instruction is a special situation:

  • Distance learning exemptions do not apply
  • Broadcasting to a large audience
  • If using music, more issues arise

What can you use in televised instruction without permission?

  • Your own materials
  • Public domain materials
  • Materials for which you have permission to record and broadcast

Why is this list so limited?

Recordings of lectures or presentations may require permission from copyright owners even when the use of the same materials in a lecture that is not recorded may not. While it seems reasonable that teaching is teaching, whatever the format, the law is not set up this way.

The ‘teaching’ exemption in the law is limited to face-to-face instruction and transmission of materials to enrolled students. Any broadcast that is not limited to enrolled students is not covered by the teaching exemption.

What are the restrictions on using music in televised instruction?

Music is a complex copyright work with many rights holders. If you are then taping a lecture or event that includes music, a synchronization license may be required. Read more about using music with video in the Compilation, Music, and Images section.

Does fair use apply?

Depending on what materials you want to use, your use may still be a fair use, but it is likely to apply only in limited circumstances.

Review the fair use factors and evaluate if this applies to your situation. It is best not to rely on fair use for televised instruction and it is recommended that instructors seek permission for this specific use.

Course Packs

UW’s Copyright Permission Center (CPC):

  • Contacts publishers
  • Obtains permission to copy material
  • Calculates and pays the proper royalties
  • Prints the course materials
  • Sells the course packet through University Book Store

Do you need permission to copy materials for course packs?

Quite possibly, yes. If your use is outside the scope of fair use, you need to obtain permission to make multiple copies of articles from periodicals, chapters of books, and other copyrighted materials. If you need to obtain permission, you may contact the copyright owner yourself, or you may use the UW Copyright Permissions Center (CPC) to clear materials you wish to use in a course packet.

What materials can you use in course packs without permission?

  • Works not protected by copyright
  • Works that you own
  • Works for which you have a license that covers this use

Do you have to use UW's CPC for course materials?

No, but you do need to respect copyright. If you are using an alternate copy service, using an online course pack service, or placing your course reading materials on a web page, you are responsible for making sure the copying doesn’t violate copyright law.

How to create a course pack

To create a course pack:

Electronic Reserves

Electronic reserves are available at UW:

What materials can you place on reserve without permission?

Print reserves

  • Any material in the library’s collection
  • Any printed materials in your collection
  • Photographs

Electronic reserve

  • Works not protected by copyright
  • Your own work
  • Copyright-protected materials if fair use applies

Why is there a difference between print and electronic reserves?

Copyright law governs making copies of works protected by copyright.

If you place a book on reserve in the library, no copies are made and many students may take turns reading the book. Copyright law does not restrict how a single copy of a work is circulated and thus an unlimited number of individuals can read the same copy of a book or journal without any violation of copyright law.

Placing printed materials on reserve in the libraries is an excellent way to make a single copy of a work available for students in a class.

The process of placing materials on electronic reserve necessarily involves making copies of the work to transfer the printed material to a digital version. Copyright law grants the copyright owner the exclusive right to make copies of a work and making copies without permission could be a violation of the owner’s rights.

The TEACH Act of 2002 specifies the circumstances in which some analog works may be digitized for use in distance education.

How do you put materials on reserve at UW?

If you are interested in placing materials on reserve through the UW Libraries, you’ll want to review the Course Materials – Frequently Asked Questions

Web Pages and Multimedia

The ability to use copyright-protected work on your web site or with multimedia depends on a number of questions, including: 

Is your web site:

  • Available for anyone to access?
  • Limited to UW addresses?
  • Password-protected?

What can you use on unrestricted course web pages without permission?

  • Works you create
  • Your own publications if your agreement with your publisher allows this
  • Public domain materials
  • Materials for which you have obtained permission

What can you use on restricted access web pages without permission?

If access to materials is limited to enrolled students in a course on a secure site and students cannot copy the material (such as through streaming audio or video), the educational multimedia guidelines may apply. Materials covered by Educational Multimedia Guidelines may be used for a period of up to two years without permission. Portion limitations include:

  • 10% or three minutes, whichever is less, of motion media
  • 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less, of text material
  • 250 words of a poem, up to three poems or excerpts from a single poet, up to 5 excerpts by different poets from a single anthology 
  • 10% or 30 seconds, whichever is less, of the music and lyrics from an individual musical work 
  • Up to five images by an artist or photographer
  • 10% or 15 images, whichever is less, from a published collective
  • 10% or 2500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, from a database or data table

When is permission advised?

  • If your use circumvents paying royalties, such as in course packs
  • You are using substantial portions of or entire works
  • You intend to use the content on an ongoing basis
  • Your project is intended for non-educational or commercial uses
  • Your site does not restrict access

Does fair use apply?

Depending on what materials you want to use, your use may still be a fair use, but it is likely to apply only in limited circumstances.

You’ll need to review the fair use factors and evaluate if this applies to your situation. It is best not to rely on fair use for unrestricted web pages and it is recommended that instructors seek permission for this specific use.

Does the University own materials you create and place on a course web site?

Generally, no.

If you write materials for your class or a scholarly article, the University would not normally own these works. Simply placing materials you own on a University web site does not transfer ownership.

More information about ownership of works created at the University can be found in the Creating Copyright section of this site.