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Copyright and Licensing for Instructors: Copyright Basics


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What is it?

“Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

U.S. Copyright Office. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions about copyright. Retrieved from

When is copyright created?

Copyright is applied from the time a work is in a fixed format. Registration is not required for copyright to apply.

Are all works copyrighted?

No. Works can be in the public domain (no license), can be Open Access (some license restrictions apply), or copyrighted (full copyright restrictions apply).

How can copyrighted works be used?

Copyrighted work can be used under the following conditions:

  • With permission from the copyright holder
  • With the purchase of a specific license
  • When the use is allowed under Fair Use:
    • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
    • the nature of the copyrighted work
    • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
    • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

U.S. Copyright Office. (2014) Circular 21: Reproduction of copyrighted works by educators and librarians. Retrieved from

Why This Is Important

Do faculty need to worry about copyright?

There are many reasons why being knowledgeable about copyright law is important for faculty members:

  1. You are the creator of copyrighted works so you should know how the law applies to your own creations
  2. You and your students will be using copyrighted materials and infringement can result in significant penalties
  3. Copyright law affects what materials are available for use in your classroom and how you can use them
  4. As a faculty member you should model ethical use of copyrighted materials for your students
  5. Copyright is the law, disregarding it is illegal
Copyright may be an issue when dealing with:
  • Journal articles, or excerpts from them
  • Books, or excerpts from them
  • Databases and electronic journals 
  • Musical works, scores, lyrics, and sound recordings
  • Pictorial/graphic works, art, sculpture, photographs
  • Audiovisual works, motion pictures, videos, video games
  • Computer software
Copyright is probably not an issue when dealing with:
  • Your lecture notes
  • Your course syllabi/reading lists
  • The problem sets you’ve developed for your courses
  • The tests you’ve created for your courses
  • Publications of the US Government
  • Published works for which copyright has expired or does not apply, i.e. works in the Public Domain

FSCJ. (2019) Copyright for faculty: Copyright basics. Retrieved from

Copyright for Faculty Presentation

Slides from the February 2021 Faculty Meeting presentation on copyright and course materials for instructors. 

Have Questions?

Have Questions?

Just Ask!

The Library is happy to help you sort through any questions or concern related to copyright, licensing, or use. Just remember, we're not lawyers and will not give legal advice.

Director of the Library

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Ruth Castillo
Subjects: Art, Music, Theatre