Frequently Asked Questions

I can’t find the answer to my question here If you are still having difficulty understanding what you should do in your specific situation, the answer desk at the library is glad to help.  Send an email with your question and they will get back with you shortly.


Student Questions

Is my work in class protected by copyright?  What does that mean? Assignments and projects you create for your classes are copyright protected if they are your original work.  This doesn't apply when you quote someone else in a paper or use someone else's graphic, but all of your original work is protected by copyright.  This means that you can exercise any of the copyright holder rights and decide if someone else is able to exercise those rights.


Am I allowed to sell my lecture notes? Course instructor's lectures may be copyright protected.  So selling your lecture notes might be be a copyright violation.  Additionally, selling lecture notes could be construed as a violation of university academic honesty policy.


Am I allowed to record my professor? Course instructors have the right not to be recorded without their permission.  You should always get the instructor's permission prior to recording a lecture or class session.


How do I respond if I think someone (classmate, professor, etc.) may be using my work without my permission? The best course of action would be to consult with the university academic honesty liaison.  This will help you understand your rights and the proper course of action.


Do I have to allow a professor to use my work as a sample for other students or in their research, etc? Since your original work is copyright protected, you have the final decision as to how others use your work.  If you do not feel comfortable allowing a course instructor to use your work, you are under no obligation to grant permission.  However, if you decide to let someone use your work, you should grant your permission in writing, and specify exactly what you are allowing them to use your work for.


Copyright Basics

At what point is something considered to have a copyright? Copyright is granted from the moment of creation.  The work does not have to include a copyright notice.  The copyright does not need to be registered.  Once it is put into a “tangible form” it is copyrighted.


What types of things can be copyrighted?

• Literary works (including almost all text-based media, to include computer code)

• Pantomimes and choreographic works

• Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works

• Sound recordings

• Motion pictures and other AV works

• Computer programs

• Compilations of works and derivative works

• Architectural works


What types of things cannot be copyrighted?

• Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, and processes

• Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans

• Facts, news, and research

• Works in the public domain

• Works that are not fixed in a tangible medium of expression


What rights does the copyright holder have?

• The right to reproduce the work

• The right to distribute the work

• The right to create derivative works

• The right to publicly perform the work

• The right to publicly display the work

• The right to digitally transmit a sound recording of the work


Who owns the copyright for the materials I create for a course? You do.  Auburn’s policy allows the creator of materials to retain the copyright.  If you are teaching a course and you create materials for that course, you hold the copyright to those materials.  If you are a student and you create materials for a course, you hold the copyright to those materials.  Auburn University's Policy Governing the Creation of Copyrighted Materials includes some exceptions, but in general, the creator of the materials is the copyright holder.


Are the materials I put online or in Canvas copyright protected? If you created the materials and are the copyright owner (see earlier questions to determine this), they are protected.  Putting materials online is a manner of distribution, which is one of the rights of the copyright holder. If you did not create the materials, someone else likely owns the copyright.  See the Using Copyright page for more information.


How can I keep students from using course materials in ways I don’t intend?  For example, selling class notes or distributing test questions, etc. By placing a disclaimer notice on your syllabus you will be able to refer students who violate that statement to the university’s student discipline committee for a hearing and possible disciplinary measures.   See the Boilerplate Statements page for more information.




Public Domain

What is the public domain? A work that might be otherwise eligible to be copyrighted, but is not protected by copyright is in the public domain.


What can I do with works that are in the public domain? You can do anything that a copyright holder would be able to do.  There are no restrictions on works that are in the public domain.


How does a work get into the public domain?

• The copyright runs out.  Since copyright protection only lasts so long, once the term of the copyright is up, the work moves into the public domain.

• The work is created by an officer or employee of the federal government as part of their duties.

• The copyright holder puts the work into the public domain.

See the Public Domain page in the Copyright Basics section for more information.


Fair Use

What is fair use?

Fair use is a provision of copyright law that allows people to use copyrighted material in certain limited ways for certain reasons without gaining permission from the copyright holder.  The main reason for these exceptions to copyright protection is so knowledge and scholarship might advance.  

Fair use can be determined by by the “four factors” test.


What are the four factors that I can use to determine if my use of copyrighted materials is fair use or not?

Factor 1: The purpose and character of your use of the copyrighted material

If you are using the copyrighted material in a non-profit educational setting, or for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research your use may qualify as a fair use.

Factor 2: The nature of the copyrighted material

If you are using factual material your use is more likely to be considered fair use than if you are using creative materials.  Additionally, if the material you are using has not been published you have far less of a claim of fair use than if the material has been published.

Factor 3: The amount and sustainability of the portion of the copyrighted material you use

If you use less than a “significant portion” of the entire work, your use may be considered a fair use.

Factor 4: The effect of your use on the potential market or value of the copyrighted material

If your use of the copyrighted material negatively affects the income of the copyright holder or negatively affects the market for the original work your use will not be considered fair.

In addition to the above, other factors may also be considered by a court in weighing a fair use question, depending upon the circumstances. Courts evaluate fair use claims on a case-by-case basis, and the outcome of any given case depends on a fact-specific inquiry. This means that there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission. 

There are more formal guidelines for what counts as fair use.  Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers from Xavier University is a chart with specific limits for different types of materials.  Fair Use by Format from Webster University is an easily searchable listing of fair use limits for different formats of materials.  However, even if your use exceeds these guidelines, if you can justify your use as fair by the four factors, it may still be ok to use that copyrighted material.

After considering all of these factors it is up to you to determine if you can justify your use of copyrighted materials as fair use.  

To make a fair use determination see Fair Use Checklist or Fair Use Tool.


Can I provide students with copies of required readings?

If you can justify your use of these materials under the four factors or fair use, you should be able to provide copies of some readings for your students.  Generally, but not always, copying most or all of a work is not permitted.  Copying materials to save students money or for the sake of convenience is not permitted.

As an alternative to copying, you can provide the students with links to articles that are owned or licensed by Auburn University Libraries or that are openly available on the Internet.  While the university libraries have a policy of not purchasing required textbooks, they are willing to purchase supplementary materials at the request of the instructor.  If the instructor knows something should be in the collection and it is under copyright, they might request that an item be purchased by the library and ask that it be licensed for an unlimited number of users.  Otherwise, the librarian’s usual practice is to just purchase a single user license, which could lead to only one student at a time able to read the item.


Can I upload .pdf files of required readings to Canvas for student use?


If you can justify your use of these materials under the four factors of fair use, you should be able to upload .pdf copies of some readings for your students.  Generally, but not always, copying most or all of a work is not permitted.  Copying materials to save students money or for the sake of convenience is not permitted.


As an alternative to uploading .pdf files, you can provide the students with links to online articles that are owned or licensed by Auburn University Libraries or that are openly available on the Internet.  The library also has the ability to purchase digital versions of books for use by your classes.


Can I scan images from a required text (a book I had the students purchase) to use it as an example in an online presentation? If you can justify your use of the image or material under the provisions of fair use or the TEACH Act your use may be permitted.


Can I use images that I download from a Google search in my instruction? Images that are on the Internet have a high likelihood of being copyright protected.  You may be able to justify your use of an image that you download from the Internet.  As an alternative you might consider using an image that you create or an image that is licensed for such use.  A great place to find images is Google Advanced Search.  Before searching, change the usage rights to “free to use or share”.


Can I use images from the Internet in class presentations? Images that are on the Internet have a high likelihood of being copyright protected.  You may be able to claim fair use of an image that you download from the Internet.  As an alternative you might consider using an image that you create or an image that is licensed for such use.   A great place to find images is Google Advanced Search.  Before searching, change the usage rights to free to use or share.


How many times am I allowed to use copied materials under fair use? If you are copying materials for your students, you should be able to justify the use of those materials under the provisions of fair use.  You are only allowed to use the materials for one class.  If you plan on using the materials a second time, you should ask the copyright holder for permission, have your students legally acquire a copy, or ask the library to make the material available as part of its online collection.


Online and Distance Learning (TEACH Act)

What does the TEACH Act allow me to do as an instructor? If you are teaching a distance or online course, or include a distance or online component in a face-to-face course, you can use copyright protected audio or video materials if you abide by the following guidelines:

• These materials must be used as part of your instruction.

• These materials must have a direct connection to the current curriculum.

• Only students who are officially registered in the course may have access to these materials.

• Once the instruction is over, any copies of these materials must be immediately made irretrievable.

• The party which transmits these materials (the instructor, school, etc.) must be responsible for protecting the copyrighted materials.


What is meant by “distance learning” in the TEACH Act? Any learning situation where an instructor delivers instruction to students who are not in the same physical space could be construed to mean distance learning.  Courses that involve delivery of instruction by mail, email, broadcast audio or video, or the Internet are generally classified as distance learning.  Any components of a face-to-face course that involve instruction being delivered in these manners can also be considered distance learning.  Additionally, distance learning must occur in discrete installments and occur within a confined span of time.  The means that the copyright protected materials of others cannot be put online and left there indefinitely.  The instructor must delete them after the teaching activity is finished.  Distance learning activities must integrate into a “lecture-like” whole and these “mediated instructional activities” must resemble traditional classroom sessions.


What is not allowed under the TEACH Act?

• You cannot scan or upload entire works or long works.

• You cannot present copyrighted works on an openly accessible Web site.  It must be password protected so that only registered students can access these materials.  The password protected log in process of Canvas fulfills this requirement.

• Students’ access to copyright protected materials must be part of specified instructional activities and the timeframe required for those activities.  They cannot be given willy-nilly access to the copyright protected materials you include in your distance learning.


Can I post links to texts that are found online in my Canvas courses? A web address is not copyrightable because links are considered to be facts.  If someone has published information online, you are free to post a link to that resource.


If I find a clip of a movie or TV show on Youtube and ask students to view a portion of it and critique it, is that OK? Yes.  You have not exercised any of the fundamental rights of the copyright holder.  If you tell your students how to find the clip by description or by providing a link, you are completely within the law, since a web address is a fact, and facts are not eligible for copyright protection.  If you show the video in class or rip the video and upload it to Canvas, you should be prepared to justify that use of the video under the guidelines of fair use or the TEACH Act.


If I capture a film clip as part of a Panopto recording, is that permitted? It is almost never acceptable to transfer an entire film or video from one medium to another.  When you capture video with Panopto, you have done just that.  However, if you follow the guidelines of the TEACH act, you may be able to justify your capturing of a portion or a clip of the video on a Panopto recording.



When are you required, by law, to ask for permission to use copyrighted materials? If you can justify your use of a copyrighted work as fair use, it is generally considered appropriate to only use that work once.  If you plan to use it repeatedly, you should seek the permission of the copyright owner.  See the Permissions page for a sample letter you can use to request permission.


Can I provide my students example papers from past students that have given me their permission and that I have removed all identifying marks and names from the papers? Since student’s own the copyright to the works they create for a class, according to Auburn University copyright policy, it is acceptable to use past students’ papers as examples for your current students, but only if they give you their permission in writing.  Be sure to keep a copy of their permission on file in case there should ever be an issue.


Are the graphics in books protected under a different copyright than the text of the book? Many times the graphics or pictures in a book are under a different copyright than the text of the book.  You can usually check the credits page of the book and the captions under each graphic to determine this.  If this is the case, you will have to ask the party who holds the copyright to the picture for its use.


Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a set of licenses that can be applied to copyrighted materials by users who want to retain the copyright on the materials but allow their work to be used by others.  Creative Commons licenses provide an easy way to manage the copyright terms that attach automatically to all creative material under copyright. CC licenses allow that material to be shared and reused under terms that are flexible and legally sound. Creative Commons offers a core suite of six copyright licenses. Because there is no single "Creative Commons license," it is important to identify which of the six licenses you are applying to your material, which of the six licenses has been applied to material that you intend to use, and in both cases the specific version.

All Creative Commons licenses require that users provide attribution (BY) to the creator when the material is used and shared. Some licensors choose the BY license, which requires attribution to the creator as the only condition to reuse of the material. The other five licenses combine BY with one or more of three additional license elements: NonCommercial (NC), which prohibits commercial use of the material; NoDerivatives (ND), which prohibits the sharing of adaptations of the material; and ShareAlike (SA), which requires adaptations of the material be released under the same license.

CC licenses may be applied to any type of work, including educational resources, music, photographs, databases, government and public sector information, and many other types of material. The only categories of works for which CC does not recommend its licenses are computer software and hardware. 

For more information about Creative Commons, go to their FAQ page.

Content in What is Creative Commons? section is Copyright © Creative Commons. It has been adapted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.  Original Material:


Where can I find materials that are licensed under a Creative Commons license?

Google Advanced Search:  Before searching, change the usage rights to free to use or share.

Flickr: The Commons: A searchable database of images with "no known copyright restrictions".  Also searchable by "commercial use allowed" and "modifications allowed".

Multiple Formats

30+ Places to Find Creative Commons Media: A listing of sites that allow you to access Creative Commons media by format (audio, images, text, video, etc).

25+ Sources for Creative Commons Content: Another listing of sites that allow you to access Creative Commons media by format.

The Creative Commons Search Tool: Links to multiple search engines that allow you to find creative Commons media.