Skip to Main Content
Banner image with CORE Library logo

Library Services for Faculty

Everything you need to know to get started with the CORE Library

Guide to Copyright Compliance

The following documents can provide useful information on the Cummings Graduate Institute's policies and procedures regarding copyright and fair use of materials.

The Nitty-Gritty

If you've made it to this point, you've surely already read the Faculty Guide to Copyright Compliance (which can be downloaded above) and you've taken a look at the permalinks page.  You know what to do.  But now you're thinking about how to work around that, aren't you?

So let's imagine a couple of scenarios, and talk about why they aren't going to work for us here at Cummings.

You'd like to use an article from your stash of articles that you have saved from previously-taught courses or academic work.  Since you've already got it in PDF form, all you have to do is upload it to your course shell so students can read it there.  No problem, right?

Wrong.  The PDF is probably acceptable for your personal use as an individual, but not to distribute to your class, even on a one-time basis.  When you originally obtained or downloaded that article, it was probably for your personal use under the terms and conditions set forth by the publisher at that time.  Your ability to use that article, and whatever permissions allowed its use at that time, do not transfer to new uses.  These are the options for using that article:

1)  Find it in the CORE library and use a permalink to share it with students.  Links typically equal legal, as long as the item is posted legally in the first place.  We are allowed to link to the items we find within our databases.

2)  Use your Google-fu to see if there's an open-access, legal version of that article floating around out on the internet that you can link to.   Many publishers allow open access to articles after a certain amount of time.   Some random person posting the article on a personal website is probably not legal. 

3)  Consider referring to just a small excerpt of that article within the scope of a lecture (and we can talk more about how much you can legally use under the fair use doctrine) and furnish students with bibliographic information that they can use to run down the article if they want to read it in its entirety.

4)  Contact the CORE Librarian, who can secure a copyright clearance for you to use this item in your course.  Permissions for a one-semester use run around $10 - $20, depending upon the number of students in the course.  If we secure a permission, you can then legally post that PDF to your course shell for one semester. 

But this was okay at the last university I taught at/was a student at!  Why isn't it okay here?

More than likely, your last university had secured an Annual Copyright Clearance License.  This is a special clearance that allows an institution to share content legally from millions of publications in course materials and research.  It provides comprehensive, institution-wide coverage.  For a large institution, it saves a lot of time and money associated with obtaining individual permissions.

Your previous institution may also have had all of the necessary provisions in place for a more flexible use of materials according to the TEACH Act.

Here at Cummings, it is presently a better use of our dollar to secure individual permissions than it is to buy the overarching license.  We'll get there, however -- and one way we do that is by demonstrating a need for it.  So don't hesitate to contact the CORE Librarian to secure those permissions for the items  you've got squirreled away and want to use.

Who's going to come after me if I don't get permission?  The copyright police?

Maybe.  In April 2008, three academic publishers filed suit against four officers of Georgia State University for “pervasive, flagrant and ongoing unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials” through the library’s e-reserve system.  Nintey-nine excerpts were submitted as evidence.  GSU fired back with the defense that their uses could be constituted as fair use.  The District Court of Northern Georgia found copyright violations in  5 of 99 excerpts and found the university’s policy had been a good faith interpretation of the fair use provision in copyright law.  The court also set out specific guidelines to be used in evaluating fair use of copyrighted material.  Appeals and other legal wrangling continued until February 2015.  Bottom line:  the copyright police are real, and they are watching.

Copyright permissions are one situation where it is best to seek permission rather than forgiveness.


Using Open Access Materials

Open Access (OA) stands for unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse. Here’s why that matters.

Most publishers own the rights to the articles in their journals. Anyone who wants to read the articles must pay to access them. Anyone who wants to use the articles in any way must obtain permission from the publisher and is often required to pay an additional fee.

Although many researchers can access the journals they need via their institution's library and think that their access is free, in reality it is not. The institution has often been involved in lengthy negotiations around the price of their site license and re-use of this content is limited.  Paying for access to content makes sense in the world of print publishing, where providing content to each new reader requires the production of an additional copy, but online it makes much less sense to charge for content when it is possible to provide access to all readers anywhere in the world.

Many publishers offer open access to some materials.  When you find something like this (here's an example), it's very important to read the terms and conditions of its use.  Most of the time, these items are only made free for personal use.   To download the item and re-post it as a PDF to your course shell is typically not going to be permissible use.  We would need to negotiate a permission for this that we would have to pay for, because this is not a personal use of the free item. 

The safest and most legal way to use open-access materials is to link out to where the item can be found for free.  From there, students can follow the publisher's instructions to download the material or to read it in a browser window.  Sometimes this may require creating an account or sharing an email address.

For students who are reluctant to share personal information, a throwaway account may be a good idea.  This is a separate email account that is established solely for the purpose of registering for online services.  If establishing an account is not needed but an email address must be provided, services like 10-Minute Mail can be used..

Thanks to for a great explanation of "open access."