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Copyright Guide - Copyright & Digital Course Content

Most everything published, especially on the Internet, is protected by copyright. Exceptions such as fair use allow for some uses without permission, but not all educational uses qualify as fair use. For these uses, you will need the permission of the copyright owner. Unless, that is, you are the copyright owner. When you retain copyright to your own works you get to control how they get used.

  • It is expected that all members of the University of Arizona community respect copyright (Title17 of the United States Code) .

  • A respect for copyright law includes an affirmation of fair use (Section 107 of Title 17 of the United States Code).

  • The principles of copyright law that apply to print materials are the same principles that apply in the digital realm.

  • Making digital copies for class use by downloading, scanning, ripping or other means impacts the reproduction right of the copyright owner, and posting material on a web site impacts the distribution right of the copyright owner.

  • Linking to content that is publicly available on the Web or licensed by the UA Libraries for use by the university community avoids reproducing the work and does not affect the rights of copyright owners.

  • When linking isn’t possible and copying becomes necessary permission is not required for materials in the public domain (generally published before 1923 and works of the U.S. federal government) or works offered for use under a Creative Commons license.

Fair Use

The legitimate and lawful application of Fair Use rights provides the constitutionally envisioned balance between the interests of the copyright holder versus societal and educational interests in access to and use of information.  The  copyright statute, which defines fair use, sets forth several balancing factors, each of which need to be considered and evaluated to determine whether a particular use is a fair and, therefore, permitted use. A determination of fair use is dependent on the facts of each individual case, and educational use is just one of the factors to be considered.


If making a copy of a work is necessary, and the work is not in the public domain or clearly licensed for use (e.g. Creative Commons licenses), a fair use analysis should be considered. To help with such an analysis, the Office of General Counsel has prepared a Fair Use Checklist which asks you to identify facts about your particular use that are relevant to the defined fair use factors. When you have completed the check list, you can save a PDF copy of your results.

Although not part of the statute, guidelines for classroom use have been negotiated and can be helpful to get a sense of uses that are broadly accepted as fair. The widest known example is the  Agreement on Guidelines for Classroom Copying in Not-For- Profit Educational Institutions With Respect To Books And Periodicals which were developed as part of the overhaul of Copyright Act of 1976.

In May of 2012 a decision in the federal circuit in Georgia held that these guidelines are not applicable in the digital realm. After appeal, the District Court instead held that copying reasonable amounts (roughly a chapter from a book) that is tied to the pedagogical goals of the course favors a finding of fair use. Under this decision a use is less likely to be fair if there is also a convenient and reasonably priced license available for digital copies of book chapters. It is worth noting that Arizona is not bound by this Georgia circuit decision, though it is the only court action related to electronic access to course readings.

For the most part, a full fair use review of particular cases may reasonably justify other or more extensive uses. Permission should be sought from the copyright owner for any use that exceeds fair use. For questions and review of any proposed use, please contact Dan Lee (leed@email.arizona.edu) with the Office of Copyright Management & Scholarly Communication.

For the following guidelines, it is assumed that access is limited to those enrolled in or administering the class . This limits the impact on the market for materials used and clarifies that the use is educational.

Book selections

In general, it is acceptable to copy one chapter or 10% of a book, regardless of print status.


The number of journal, magazine, or newspaper articles that may be copied for each course should be reasonable in relation to the learning objective and total amount of material assigned for one term of a course, taking into account the nature of the course, its subject matter and level.


Materials such as case studies, commercial workbooks, exercise sheets, standardized test booklets, etc., that are intended primarily for classroom use should not be copied or made available for copying without permission of the copyright owner.

Audio selections

Audio from lawfully acquired sources may be made available as streamed files to reduce the likelihood of further copying and saving of individual files.

Video selections

Video from lawfully acquired sources may be made available as streamed files to reduce the likelihood of further copying and saving of individual files. For more information, see our video streaming service.


Images may be displayed in a course site where access is limited to those enrolled in the course. A notice stating that the digital images used in this manner should not be downloaded, copied, retained, printed, shared, modified, or otherwise used beyond the permitted educational uses should be included. 

In other contexts outside of an access controlled course site, permission from the copyright owner should be sought. Copyright owners who display images on their web site will often provide contact information and guidance for how they would like others to re-use the images and other content of the site. If neither of these are present, it would be a good idea to avoid using material from such a site as they may not have the rights to use the images on the site.

There are a number of resources that provide image resources that are intentionally made available for re-use. Usually these are made available through open licenses. Google Image Search and Bing both provide mechanisms for searching for images indexed for re-use. In Google Image Search, after conduction a search for an image that matches your needs, you can limit the search by clicking on "Search Tools" and selecting an appropriate filter for "Usage Rights."

Class Notes/Course Packs

Entire Class Notes packets prepared by the UA Fast Copy service or other commercial vendors should not be copied for this use. Fast Copy pays permission fees in order to create Class Notes packets, and the agreements they sign only cover the production of Class Notes.

Copyright Notice

Instructors should provide the appropriate copyright information for each reading or other work copied. If the correct copyright owner is unknown, a general statement that the material used is protected by copyright can be used.  

For additional information on this topic see:

U.S. Copyright Office

American University's Center for Social Media, along with a committee of practitioners, developed a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Courseware

American Library Association Fair Use and Electronic Reserves

Music Library Association's Statement on the Digital Transmission of Electronic Reserves

University of Arizona's Office of the General Counsel

Fair Use and Copyright in Instruction (interactive tutorial)

Last modified: December 1, 2016