Using Copyrighted Works

Any course content—resources, articles, images, and media—that you did not create yourself, but plan to use in your course, should comply with US Copyright Law and UC policy. Just because content is being used for educational purposes does not automatically allow it to be used in a course.

US Copyright Law gives the creator of a work exclusive claim of ownership over their work. Copyright Law also gives the holder of the copyright exclusive rights to use and distribute their work however they choose.

How do you know if you are in compliance?

Evaluate the Four Factors of Fair Use

“Fair Use” is a legal doctrine in which brief excerpts of a work can be used for a limited purpose including teaching, scholarship, criticism, commentary, and research. It is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. Consider the four factors that determine whether the use of copyrighted material may qualify as “fair use":

  1. The purpose of using the copyrighted work (commercial vs. educational)
  2. The amount used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (sample vs. entire work)
  3. The nature of the copyrighted work (factual—which is more likely to be fair use—vs. creative works)
  4. The economic impact to the owner of the copyrighted work (taking money away from the owner's earning potential)

Best Practices

  • Cite all copyrighted materials in your course including documents, graphics, links, and videos.
  • Obtain copyright clearance by contacting the copyright holder and asking permission to use their work. Materials can also be produced as a course reader through UCLA Course Reader Solutions.
  • Limit your use of copyrighted work to the least amount you need to achieve your instructional goals. For example, if a two-page excerpt will support your lesson, only use those two pages and not the entire chapter or book.
  • Provide links to online resources versus copying resource materials directly into your course. Just because the content is available to access online does not mean that you are free to redistribute the content (e.g., copying and pasting, printing out and handing it out in class, etc.).
  • If a website provides the embed code for a video, you can embed the video directly into your course.
  • Enhance your course with relevant free images from websites that offer them, but be sure to review each service’s license terms and comply accordingly.


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