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Copyright & Fair Use

The content on this guide is a more up-to-date version of the Copyright for College Educators brochure.

Copyright for educators: Can I Use This?

Flowchart for legal use of copied materials

Legal use of copyrighted materials is a common daily consideration for educators, and it can often be challenging to sort out your options. The following flowchart will help if you want to:

  • Share an article or book chapter with your students in class on Talon
  • Create a "course pack" of assorted materials as a textbook replacement
  • Need quality images for a PowerPoint or other public presentation

What is considered a copy?

For all instances of copyright and fair use, use of materials is considered copying if:

  • a print copy is made and distributed in class or through a course pack in the bookstore
  • a digital copy is downloaded and saved to Talon, or distributed through email

Special note: a link to material that exists on a website (for example: YouTube, New York Times website, or a Library subscription database) is NOT considered a copy, and no copyright or fair use considerations need to be made, except in rare cases where a site states that linking is specifically not allowed.

This table begins with the most permissive (and therefore easiest) options, then works down to the most restrictive:

Is the work in the Public Domain?

  • No permission needed: works in the public domain may be copied and distributed without permission of the creator/owner.
  • Most works older than 1923 are in the public domain, and some later works as well. See Public Domain Sherpa for help determining if a work is in the public domain.
  • Most works produced by the U.S. government are in the public domain. Assume a government document to be in the public domain unless it contains a copyright notice.
  • Attribute the original source in any posted or distributed copies.

To search:

Public Domain Review

Is the work open licensed?

  • Permission already granted: works with a Creative Commons or other open license will be labeled with the specifics of what type of use is allowed.
  • The most common, "CC-BY", means that the work can be copied, edited, and distributed without permission of the creator/owner, requiring only that you attribute the original author.
  • Guide to Creative Commons licensing.
  • Attribute the original source in any posted or distributed copies.

To search: 

Creative Commons search, or

Kirkwood's Guide to Open Educational Resources

Is the work online?

  • Permission or licensing is needed if copying. However, you may link to it instead of copying it. No permission from the copyright holder is needed if linking. (The only exception is if the work specifically states this isn't allowed).
  • This applies to works on free websites (for example, a YouTube video or a blog post), as well as works already licensed to the college through Library subscription databases, such as journal articles or eBooks.
  • For more information on creating links to Library subscription content, please see our Talon help guide
  • If you want to distribute print copies, or download a copy to post to Talon, continue down this table to see if your use falls under fair use or if purchased licensing is needed.

To search:

Library Services Home

Does your intended use of the work fall under "fair use"?

  • Fair use is a doctrine of U.S. copyright law which gives exceptions to certain uses of copyrighted materials, which would otherwise by copyright infringement.
  • To determine if fair use applies to your use, the four fair use factors must be applied. See Kirkwood Library's guide to fair use for more information on how to apply fair use to your situation.
  • If you determine that fair use applies, fill out the fair use worksheet for each resource you copy or download and keep a copy in your files.
  • Attribute the original source in any posted or distributed copies.
Kirkwood's Fair Use Guide

Asking for permission

  • If it's not possible to link to a licensed or free copy of the work, and if fair use doesn't apply, you can contact the copyright holder for permission.
  • The University System of Georgia has an excellent guide on requesting permissions and identifying the copyright owner of a work, with sample permission letters. If you receive permission from the copyright holder, keep a copy in your files.
  • Attribute the original source in any posted or distributed copies.
Georgia's Permissions Guide

Paying copyright holder for use

  • If it's not possible to link to a licensed or free copy of the work, and if fair use doesn't apply, you can also purchase the right to copy, distribute, display, or perform a work. This is usually done through a licensing agent. 
  • Contact the Library for assistance in obtaining licensing permission for the works you want to distribute to students.
Georgia's Collective Licensing Agencies guide


Use of Videos

The same general rules for use of copyrighted material outlined on this guide also apply to use of videos. Here are answers to some common questions:

Q: I show a lot of YouTube videos in class. Can I post these to Talon?

A: Yes, just use the "Share" button in YouTube (or other online video source) and use the direct link or the embed code to share in Talon. Also, it's good practice not to link to a video that doesn't appear to have been posted by the owner. It's likely not a legal copy. Remember that the library can often purchase a copy of a published video, such as an episode of a series, a movie, or a documentary.

Q: I have a personal copy of a DVD that I usually show in class. How can I post this video online?

A: You can typically contact Kirkwood's Media Services for assistance with this. The Library can sometimes purchase streaming video as well, depending on the title.

Q: Can I borrow a DVD from another library, like the public library or through interlibrary loan, and ask Media Services to put this on our VOD system?

A: No. The TEACH Act states that the original copy must be owned by the individual or by the college.

Q: I want to post a short clip of a YouTube video. Can I download a copy then edit it down to the clip I want to use?

A: This question is more complicated. First, check the usage license on the video. It is possible to find videos on YouTube that are open licensed, which allows anyone to make a copy and edit it. 
In YouTube,  you can create a share URL for a video that begins at the moment you want students to begin watching. Pause the video where you want the clip to begin, then click on the Share button, and select the box at the bottom that says "Start at". Copy and paste the resulting link as usual. 

Any other questions? Just Ask a Librarian!

Copyright at Kirkwood

Kirkwood Community College respects the legal right of ownership of intellectual property in all media. It is the policy of Kirkwood Community College that all members of the college community adhere to the provisions of the United States Copyright Law (Title 17, United States Code, Sect. 101, et seq.).

Faculty and staff are reminded that it is unlawful to copy, distribute or display copyrighted material without written permission from the copyright holder, unless fair use or educational exceptions apply.  Both the individual requesting such services and the individual performing the services may be liable for copyright infringement.  Please consult the Kirkwood Library with questions concerning copyright exceptions.

Please note: License agreements for products, software or websites may impose further legal restrictions beyond standard copyright obligations.

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