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Copyright Guidelines

These guidelines are designed to help faculty and students use materials legally without having to understand a lot of legalese

What IS copyrighted?

Original works “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” Specifically including:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works (including accompanying words)
  • Dramatic works (including accompanying music)
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

What is NOT copyrighted?

What is not copyrighted?

  • Ideas (note to self – give examples on the copyright webpage)
  • Procedures
  • Processes
  • Systems
  • Methods
  • Concepts
  • U.S. government documents
  • Data
  • Domain names for web pages
  • Items past the term of copyright
    • In 2016, items published before 1923
    • In 2016, items created but not published or registered whose authors died before 1946
    • In 2016, anonymous or pseudonymous items created and not published or registered before 1896
    • For more details, see

Although some things like names or tag lines cannot be copyrighted, some are protected by trademarks. The rights and responsibilities of trademarks are somewhat different from copyright. For more information on trademarks see this Trademarks Basic document by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Teaching Exemption (Section 110 of the Copyright Law)

In-Person, face-to-face classes

  • You can show or display works in a class. This includes full movies or songs. The copy of the work must be legally obtained.
  • Instructor or student can perform works in class (dramatic works, readings, music, etc.)

Online classes (TEACH Act)

  • You can show or display nondramatic literary or musical work.
  • You can show limited portions of any other work.
  • You can display a still image as you would for a face-to-face class.
  • You can play short clips of movies but making those clips digital may be difficult.
    • The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) forbids the copying or conversion of content if that content is in any way technologically protected. Most DVDs are protected so making digital clips from a DVD is likely to require permission from the copyright holder.
  • Conditions for using the TEACH Act
    • The performance or display must be made by or at the direction of the instructor.
    • The performance or display must be an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of a systematic mediated instructional activity of a governmental body or an accredited nonprofit educational institution.
    • The performance or display must be directly related to the content of the class.
    • Reception of the performance or display must be limited to students enrolled in the class or officials or employees of governmental bodies as part of their official duties.
    • The transmitting body or institution has policies regarding copyright and provides informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members about copyright.
    • The institution must apply technological measures to prevent retention of the work by recipients and prevent dissemination of the work to others.

Fair Use (Section 107 of the Copyright Law)

  • Consider the following four criteria to determine whether your use favors or opposes fair use.
    • Purpose and characteristic of the use
    • Nature of the work
    • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the whole
    • Effect of the use on any potential market for the work
  • Use a checklist such as the one from Cornell University to determine each factor then determine whether your use is overall favorable or not.
  • Note that fair use is listed as an exemption but in practice it is a defense in case of a legal suit.
  • You are determining what level of risk you are at for losing a law suit. Be sure you are comfortable with the level of risk.

Paying Royalties

  • Depending on the type of material you are going to use and the way you are going to use it, there are a number of licensing organizations.
  • For print material used in class or put on D2L (note this refers only to copies you make, not when you link to something), the Copyright Clearance Center (  provides a central licensing place for most print materials.
  • For music to be performed in recitals or concerts or played outside a face-to-face classroom, there are several licensing organizations. Some of the music covered by each organization overlaps but some does not. You are responsible for making sure that you or the institution has a license that covers the particular pieces you want to play.
  • For movies to be shown outside a face-to-face classroom, a license must be held.
    • Streaming video licenses may allow public performance but may not. Check the license.
      • Briggs Library’s Kanopy system can be used in class or other face-to-face situations.
      • Briggs Library’s Kanopy system can be used in distance education classes by linking to the video and having each location show the video separately (location could be classrooms across the state or a student’s home).
    • MPLC (Motion Picture Licensing Corporation) (

Requesting Permission

  • Determine who holds the copyright to a work
    • Orphan works are those whose ownership can’t be determined or the owner can’t be located. Although there has been work on making orphan works available for use, currently, inability to get permission to use a work is the same as being denied permission.
  • Request permission (in writing) from the copyright holder.
  • Keep the permission in writing for as long as the permission lasts.
    • To store a video or text on a system at SDSU such as MyMedia or Open PRAIRIE, you may be required to provide a copy of the written permission to the system administrator. Verbal permission will not be allowed for these systems.
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