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Copyright at the University of San Francisco

Please note that this site should not be considered legal advice. It is to be used for educational purposes only. CC-BY unless otherwise noted.

Copyright and Teaching: Using Copyrighted Works in the Classroom

You may have questions about what can be used in the classroom. If you are unsure, here are four steps you can take to determine whether you are using copyrighted works appropriately.

1) We recommend that you start by asking first: Is what you are using protected under copyright law or in the public domain? You can do this by checking this chart created by Peter Hirtle: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States or the Public Domain Slider

2) If the resource is under copyright law, then you should check to see how it is licensed. When something is licensed, we are contracted to use (not own) it, whether through Creative Commons or through the library. If you got the resource through the library, you can check with any librarian to make sure you understand the licensing terms. For example, Debbie Benrubi is our specialist on all our streaming video licensing.

3) If there are no licensing terms but it is under copyright protections, you can also check to see if your use of the work fall under fair use. We recommend that you use this helpful checklist to guide you and help formulate your fair use case: ALA Fair Use Checklist 

4) If you don't think your use is fair, then you might need to ask permission. But please note that linking is legal in the United States, and you don't need to ask permission! Instructions on how to link to library resources are on the Gleeson Library YouTube channel


Don't panic! You should know that copyright law supports education, and we have a copyright advisory team at the Gleeson Library to help you. There are, in fact, not just one, not two, but three pieces of legislation that educators depend on to do things like show videos in a class, hand out copies of articles to students, and use screenshots of websites in order to teach a point. They are

Copyright Tools

These are all tools that people have created to help you determine whether you can use a copyrighted work. Please note that they do not provide legal advice, simply education and guidance. The tools use the information you provide it as well as your own judgement on the fairness of use.

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