This is a guide to applying the concept of fair use when seeking to use third-party copyrighted materials in online education.
In cases where fair use does not apply, alternatives are suggested, for example using materials that are open access, that have open licenses, or that are in the public domain. It is also possible to purchase a license to use a work.
This guide applies only to the use of copyrighted materials created by others. URI employees own the copyright in courseware and instructional content that they develop, with certain exceptions, per the University of Rhode Island Intellectual Property Policy, sections 10.40.10-10.46.36 of the University Manual.
The goal of copyright law, as grounded in the U.S. Constitution, is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.
Copyright is a form of protection granted to authors that provides them, for a limited period of time, with certain exclusive rights. These rights are intended to encourage authors to create, thereby providing society with valuable works.
The limitation on the length of copyright (as well as other limitations such as fair use) balances the benefits of incentives for authors with the benefits of allowing the public to make use of copyrighted materials in a free and democratic society.
Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights. A copyright owner has the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do any of the following:
Copyright protection attaches automatically to original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Originality requires that the work was created independently (i.e. not copied from another) and that it embodies a minimum amount of creativity. To be fixed in a tangible medium of expression means that the work can be perceived either directly or by a machine or device such as a computer or projector.
Copyrightable works include the following categories:
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, "literary works" includes novels, poetry, compilations, and computer programs. "Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" includes images, photographs, paintings, maps, charts, and architectural plans.
Certain types of works are not eligible for copyright protection. These include:
These works are in the public domain, meaning they are freely available for use without copyright restrictions.
In order to balance the needs of users with those of rightsholders and to preserve copyright's purpose to promote science and the useful arts, copyright law contains a number of exceptions.
Many of the exceptions in copyright law apply only to certain types of works under very specific conditions. The exceptions can be difficult to understand and apply without the advice of a lawyer.
In contrast, fair use is easier to understand, applies to all types of works, and is flexible. It is for these reasons that this guide recommends relying on fair use when deciding when and how to use (or not to use) third-party copyrighted material in online education.
"The Congress shall have Power To... Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their Respective Writings and Discoveries."
— United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8
In addition to the full text of the Copyright Law of the United States, a great deal of additional information on copyright can be found on the website of the United States Copyright Office.
See, for example, Circular 1, Copyright Basics.
This guide was created by Andrée Rathemacher, Julia Lovett, and Angel Ferria as part of their Certification in Intellectual Property Management and Leadership through the Center for Intellectual Property, University of Maryland University College.
The information presented here is only general information. Legal advice must be provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship specifically with reference to all the facts of the particular situation under consideration. Such is not the case here, and accordingly, the information presented here must not be relied on as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney.
Legal matters concerning the University of Rhode Island should be referred to the university's General Counsel, Alyssa V. Boss, firstname.lastname@example.org, 401-874-4488.
Created: May 2013
Andrée Rathemacher, 5/2013-
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.