Copyright Resources: Copyright and Teaching

This guide contains information and resources to support KU students, faculty, and staff in their efforts to use and create copyrighted works in teaching and learning, research, and creative activity.


Educational uses of copyright-protected content aren't automatically fair or exempted. The use of copyrighted content in teaching bears thoughtful consideration. In addition to the resources on the Getting Started and Using Copyrighted Works in Scholarship tabs on this guide, this page includes information and resources that address common intersections between copyright and teaching.

KU Libraries’ Shulenburger Office of Scholarly Communication & Copyright is available to assist KU faculty, staff, and students with questions concerning copyright, including fair use. Contact for assistance.

General Resources

The following resources are helpful places to begin considering copyright in the context of teaching. Additional resources may be found in adjacent boxes as well as on the Using Copyrighted Works in Scholarship tab on this guide.

  • Know Your Copyrights:  This simple matrix chart by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) highlights common pedagogical uses of content without permission or fee.
  • ALA Copyright Tools:  The American Library Association's Copyright Tools site includes resources for assessing copyright status, fair use, and educational exceptions.
  • Copyright Decision Tree:  This copyright decision tree, in the form of an interactive slide show developed at KU, is designed to walk users through the steps that will help them decide whether they are using copyrighted materials in compliance with U.S. copyright law and/or fair use. 
  • A Framework for Analyzing any U.S. Copyright Problem:  This simplified resource, similar to the Copyright Decision Tree above, is designed to assist potential users of 3rd party content to determine if and how they are using copyright-protected materials in compliance with U.S. copyright law and/or fair use through the application of five simple questions.
  • Adapt this sample text to request permission to use a copyrighted work in your teaching (doc) (KU):  Adapted for use at KU from text created by Kenneth Crews, Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office, under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY)

Copyright and Linking

The web as we understand it depends on linking to other sites. Otherwise, every page would be a cul-de-sac, unconnected to other pages, and the Internet would cease to function. Luckily, linking doesn't violate copyright, with a couple of important exceptions (see below for more information). Generally, neither permission nor a fair use analysis are necessary when linking to legally available content. This is massively helpful, both for regular web use as well as in teaching.

A very common example: instructors frequently assign articles from KU Libraries databases, which are licensed for use of KU students, faculty, and staff. Rather than downloading the pdf of an article and uploading that copy to Blackboard, provide the permalink from the item record and direct students to log in to their KU Libraries account and retrieve the article. This is a better practice from a copyright point of view, and helps reveal usage of resources, which informs subscription renewals and cancellations.

When is linking OK?

  • When providing a link to the front page or any sub-page of legally hosted content, including content on the open web as well as content behind a log-in (restricting access to users with appropriate credentials), such as articles in library databases;
  • When embedding content to represent it on a page, such as using YouTube embed codes or "preview" functions on social media. In these cases, it appears the content is hosted on the page itself, but in reality, it is displayed from the source, or streamed.

When is linking not OK?

  • When linking to infringing content, AKA contributory copyright infringement; don't link to known or obviously infringing content, such as pirated films, illegal copies of commercial textbooks, or sites like Sci-Hub (a piracy site for scholarly journal articles);
  • When linking to circumvention technology proscribed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); Section 1201 of the DMCA makes it illegal to traffic in technology that enables others to circumvent technological measures put in place by copyright holders to control access to or uses of their copyright work.

Information presented in this box is adapted from Linking to Copyrighted Materials by the Digital Media Law Project, hosted by the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, CC-BY-NC-SA.


Classroom Use Exemption

The Classroom Use Exemption (17 U.S.C. §110(1)) applies in very limited situations, but where it does apply, the rights are quite clear.

To qualify for this exemption, you must: be in a classroom ("or similar place devoted to instruction"); be there in person, engaged in face-to-face teaching activities; and be at a nonprofit educational institution.

If you meet these conditions, the Classroom Use Exemption gives both instructors and students broad rights to perform or display any works. That means instructors can play legally acquired movies and music for their students, at any length. Instructors can show students images or original works of art. Students can perform arias, read poems, and act out scenes. Students and instructors can do these things without seeking permission, without payment of a license, and without having to deal with the potential complexity of fair use.

But Be Careful!

The Classroom Use Exemption does not apply outside the nonprofit, in-person, classroom teaching environment! It doesn't apply online - even to wholly course-related activities and course websites. It doesn't apply to interactions that are not in-person - even simultaneous distance learning interactions. It doesn't apply at for-profit educational institutions (KU is a non-profit educational institution).

The Classroom Use Exemption also only authorizes performance or display, not the production or distribution of copies (i.e., handing out readings in class). Note that fair use may apply when the Classroom Use Exemption is not available.

Information presented in this box is adapted from the University of Minnesota Libraries' Copyright Services' Exceptions & Limitations page, CC-BY-NC.