Copyright Guidelines and Scenarios

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Linking is Best!

When in Doubt, Link to It!

Instructors can always link to anything that is on the open web without worrying about copyright.  Linking and using embed codes are ways of pointing to works without using any of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights.

If instructors want to copy/download and distribute works instead of linking to them, they will need to first assess if the work is protected or licensed.

Unprotected Works/Public Domain

Copyright does not protect, this Policy does not apply to, and anyone may freely use the following:

  • Works that lack originality — logical, comprehensive compilations (like the phonebook); unoriginal reprints of public domain works
  • Works in the public domain (works published before 1924, some works between 1924-1977 without a copyright notice, works after 1977 where the author has been dead for at least 70 years). 
  • US Government works
  • Facts
  • Ideas, processes, methods, and systems described in copyrighted works

NOTE: The presence or absence of a copyright notice no longer carries the significance it once did because the law no longer requires a notice. Absence of a notice means virtually nothing. Even if there is no copyright notice, you must assume that the material is copyright protected.

Library-Licensed Works

If the NWTC Library subscribes to the resource, you will be able to use any special library urls and PDF files to share the materials with students.

Creative Commons Licensed Works

If the author has added a Creative Commons license to the work, it will tell you exactly what you are allowed to do with the work when you use the proper attribution.  Learn more about Creative Commons licenses.

Implied Licenses

Authors who place materials on the open web do so knowing that people will use the works in certain ways (downloading, making personal copies, sending copies to friends, etc.)  This is the essence of an implied license since the author does not expressly give the right to do those things. 

Most nonprofit, educational uses that properly attribute the source would likely be within the scope of what people expect when they place materials on the open web.  The scope of this implied license is similar to fair use.


Fair Use

Fair Use Exemption

Copyright law protects the rights of the author but also enables educators and students to have access to and reproduce copyrighted materials if the use is “reasonable” or ”fair”.

Fair Use is the use of copyrighted works without asking permission from the copyright owner.  It involves an analysis of four different factors:

  • Purpose and character of the use
  • Nature of the work
  • Amount used
  • Effect upon the market

When courts analyze a use for fairness, they tend to focus on two main questions:

  1. Is the use you want to make of another’s work transformative?  Does it add value to and repurpose the work for a new audience?
  2. Is the amount of material you want to use appropriate to achieve your transformative purpose?

Some educational uses are clearly not transformative, for example, when an instructor wants to copy several chapters from a textbook for students to read.  Textbooks are created for an educational audience, so the use is not repurposing the work for a new audience.  Similarly, when videos are created for educational purposes, instructors are not transforming them by sharing them with their class.  If the use is not transformative, or the amount goes beyond what is needed to make the point, instructors need to look at market availability for a license.

If copyright owners lack a mechanism for requesting or paying them for use of their materials, it supports relying on fair use to meet our needs.  However, instructors need to first explore the market to make that decision (learn more about finding owners and getting permission).

For simple cases, rely on the following guidelines to determine what is designated as a fair use.


Coursepacks, the Learning Management System, and Other Distribution Platforms

For transformative uses, use no more than you need to achieve your transformative purpose.

If you need to use materials in essentially the same way or for the same audience as the author intended, or you use more than necessary to achieve a transformative purpose, limit the materials distributed in coursepacks, the learning management system, and other distribution platforms by:

  • Using small amounts of the total
  • Using copies of materials that a faculty member or the NWTC Library already possesses legally (i.e., by purchase, license, fair use, interlibrary loan, etc.)
  • Limiting access to appropriate groups, such as students enrolled in a class and administrative staff, as needed.
  • Terminate access at the end of the class term or seek permission to re-use it in the future (if there is a method for requesting permission)\

Always include

  • Any copyright notice on the original
  • Appropriate citations and attributions to the source


Digitalizing and Providing Access to Images and Audiovisual Resources for Educational Purposes

If the use of the resources is transformative and the amount used is appropriate for the transformative purpose, digitize them and make them available as needed, in accordance with the limitations below.

If the use is not transformative, assess the scope and relevance of licensed digital resources available.

  • If the instructor’s needs and the content of licensed digital resources significantly overlap: Acquire licenses to use the commercially available digital collections and digitize institutional holdings in accordance with the limitations below.
  • If there is little overlap of the instructor’s needs and readily available digital collection, for example, the materials are no longer available or are rare: Digitize and use institutional works in accordance with the limitations below.


  • Limit access to all images, audio and audiovisual resources, except low resolution small images or short clips, to appropriate audiences such as students enrolled in a class.
  • Terminate access at the end of the class term or seek permission to re-use it in the future (if there is a method for requesting permission)

Students may download, print when needed, and transmit digitized works for personal study and for use in the preparation of academic course assignments and other requirements for degrees, may publicly display images and perform audio and audiovisual works in works prepared for course assignments, etc., and may keep works containing them in their portfolios.


Digitalizing and Using Others’ Works Creatively

Students and employees who wish to use others’ works in creative, transformative ways, may incorporate others’ works into their own original creations and display and perform the resulting work in connection with or creation of:

  • Class assignments
  • Curriculum materials
  • Remote instruction
  • Examinations
  • Student portfolios
  • Professional symposia

While creative uses tend to be transformative, be careful to use no more than needed to achieve the transformative purpose.  Limit copies and distribution.

More Complex?

Four-Factor Fair Use Test

For more complicated situations or when you need to use more than a small amount of content, use the tab on the left to access the Four-Factor Fair Use Test to determine whether the use is fair or requires permission.