Privacy, Web & Copyright Policies

Copyright Guide to Using Digital Materials in Courses

Reed College encourages the appropriate and legal use of digital materials in the curriculum. This document discusses digital materials that may be used in your courses, and provides guidelines for understanding fair use of copyrighted materials. Note that this document does not cover Library reserve materials, which are subject to a separate process, described at

Many Materials are Available to Use

If you want to use digital materials such as text, images, audio and film clips, first look for materials that are available to use without requiring special permission:

  • Materials you create yourself, and for which you hold the copyright.
  • Materials that are in the public domain, either because the creator has expressly made them public domain, they were created by the federal government, or because they are sufficiently old.
  • Materials that have been made available by the creator under a license that allows the kind of use you want to make (for example, the Creative Commons license). Some universities have made materially freely available and specifically allow faculty to copy and use them for non-commercial purposes (for example the MIT Open Courseware initiative).
  • You may link to (instead of copying) materials that are publicly available on the web.
  • The Reed Library and Visual Resources department have license agreements for a wide variety of materials.

Copyright and Fair Use

If the materials you want to use are not available in any of the above ways, they may be eligible under Fair Use. Fair use does not eliminate copyright protections, but it grants exceptions for "purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching,... scholarship, or research..."

Unfortunately, we cannot provide "cookbook" guidelines for fair use. Fair use law is deliberately vague so that each case may be evaluated on the particular circumstances involved. This approach provides for flexibility, but can lead to interpretations that are either unnecessarily restrictive or inappropriately liberal. Fair use does not automatically mean that any academic use is allowable; nor does it mean that no copyrighted materials may be used.

In the end, faculty need to exercise good faith in evaluating fair use, based on the particular materials and the way in which they will be used. Specifically, faculty must weigh the pros and cons of each of these four factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use
    Non-profit, educational uses such as teaching, research, criticism, or commentary will lean toward fair use. Activities that are commercial or purely entertainment weigh against fair use.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
    Work that tends to be more factual -- less creative -- is more favorable for fair use. It is harder to make a fair use case for work that is highly creative, such as art, fiction, or music.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion
    If you are using a small portion of a particular work, it is easier to make a case for fair use. Copying a substantial amount or the "heart and soul" of a work weighs against fair use. Some guidelines attempt to define parameters for what constitutes a small, fair portion but, in practice, it is very difficult to use a cookbook approach.
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for the work
    Using materials in such a way, or to such an extent, that it undermines the owner's ability to profit from the work, weighs against fair use. Consider whether you are copying a work that is being sold to the higher-education marketplace, or if there is a wider market that would not be harmed by your use.

Information that will help you evaluate these four factors is available on the web:

Seeking Permission

If fair use does not clearly apply to your situation, you will need to seek permission to use copyrighted materials. Reed does not have a staff member responsible for obtaining permissions to use digital materials, so faculty may need to seek permission themselves. All written permissions should be retained in the Reed College Visual Resources Collection.

In many cases, the scholar or artist who created the materials may be willing to grant permission to use them for academic purposes. If you know the creator or copyright holder, you may be able to simply ask for permission.

Copyright Information Available on the Web

September 8, 2003