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Faculty: Copyright

Information for faculty about copyright.


What is it? How long does it last?

Copyright is a protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Unless your situation meets an exception outlined in the Copyright Act, you must get explicit permission from the copyright holder before you can lawfully re-use the work in any of the following ways:

  • Reproduce the work in copies or recordings;
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • Distribute copies or recordings of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • Perform the work publicly, such as literary, musical, dramatic works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • Display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, and dramatic works, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural art works, including the individual frames of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission (including P2P filesharing)

The duration of copyright protection in the U.S. varies depending on the year of publication and other conditions.

  • Works created after 1977 are protected for the author's lifetime + 70 years.
  • Works published 1923 - 1977 have copyright protection for 95 years after the publication date.
  • Works created before 1923 are generally in the public domain and may be used for any purpose.

Public Domain

Mona Lisa

Public Domain refers to creative works that are not protected by the copyright law. This can be a creative work for which the copyright has expired or any work created by a federal government employee.  A copyright owner may also deliberately put the work in the public domain.  

A work in the public domain may be used freely and without restriction.  No permission is needed.

There are many collections of resources in the public domain or that require no attribution for use. Below are a few resources to consider.

Fair Use

Fair use is the doctrine that allows the use of copyrighted works under certain circumstances, such as criticism, news reports, teaching, and research, without seeking permission from the copyright holder. It is important to note that fair use is not a right, but a defense to copyright infringement.

This Understanding Fair Use web page can help you learn the four statutory factors that are used by the court to determine for fair use. The Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI) offers the Codes of Best Practices for various disciplines and media such as the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts and the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video, among others. 

The Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians (Circular 21, United States Copyright Office) provides basic information of the legislative provision dealing with reproduction of copyrighted materials by librarians and educators. Here are some highlights for teachers making copies:

  • A single copy may be made by/for a teacher for research or use in teaching:
    • A chapter from a book
    • An article from a periodical or newspaper
    • A short story, short essay or short poem
    • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper
    • Multiple copies (not to exceed more than one copy per student) made for classroom use provided that
      • The copying meets the tests of brevity and spontaneity listed below and,
      • Meets the cumulative effect test as defined below and,
      • Each copy includes a notice of copyright


  1. Poetry: a complete poem is less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
  2. Prose: either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less.
  3. Illustration: one chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture per book or per periodical issue.


  1. The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and
  2. The inspiration and decision to use the work for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

Cumulative Effect:

  1. The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
  2. Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work during one class term.
  3. There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.


  1. The copying shall not be used to create or substitute for anthologies, compilation or collective works
  2. The copying shall not substitute for the purchase of books or be repeated from term to term.
  3. There shall be no copying of “consumable” materials, such as workbooks, test booklets.
  4. No charge shall be made to the student beyond the actual cost of the photocopying.

For highlights of rules for reproducing music, recording and showing television programs, see the Educational Uses of Non-coursepack Materials from Stanford University.

Using copyrighted materials in class

Here are some ideas to more easily and legally use copyrighted materials in your class:

  • Put your materials on reserve in the library at the main campus or Chico Center. Go to Course Reserves for more info. 
  • If the copyrighted work is available on a website or via the Library’s databases, you can provide your students the links and/or citations to the website or full-text article in our databases. However, if you suspect that the copyrighted material is illegally reproduced on a website, such as an entire movie on YouTube, you should not link to it.
  • If you want to distribute copies to students, follow the Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians highlighted above in the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Purposes. If the amount of work exceeds what is stated in the guidelines, you need to get permission from the copyright owner.
  • If you think the materials you are using in class exceed fair use guidelines you may consider creating an academic coursepack, or reader, for your class. An academic coursepack is a photocopied collection of materials usually sold in campus bookstores. Most publishers grant clearances for coursepacks for a fee. It is the instructor’s obligation to obtain clearance for coursepacks through campus bookstores, copy shops, or clearance services (such as Copyright Clearance CenterXanEdu.)


Reproducing a copyrighted work for teaching doesn’t necessarily protect you from copyright infringement. To evaluate whether a proposed use of a copyright work is a fair use, check the guidelines above.  Try the Thinking Through Fair Use  web tool to organize your thoughts and structure your reflections about the four fair use statutory factors; you can then make a more objective guess about whether your intended use of a copyrighted work is fair or not. 

Yes, but the film or work you use must be part of a mediated instructional activity and you are showing it as part of ‘face-to-face” teaching viewed only by students enrolled in the course. This is covered by Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act.  Keep in mind that you cannot use an unlawful copy to show the film/video.

The TEACH Act, 17 U.S.C. Section 110(2) enables the display of copyrighted materials for distance education by accredited, non-profit educational institution (like Butte College). Instructors can display any work in an amount comparable to that typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session. So, follow the fair use guidelines for educators in physical classrooms. Always keep in mind to use only a reasonable and limited portion of a copyrighted work. And whatever copyrighted works you post online, make sure they are only accessible by students who have enrolled in the course. Click here to learn more about the TEACH Act.

To avoid getting permissions when using videos as part of your teaching activities, you can consider using the Library’s video collections. The Butte College Library subscribes to Alexander Street’s Academic Video Online and Kanopy Streaming Video which have thousands of documentaries, shows, and feature length films. Instructors can embed a video in Canvas or post a link to show a video as class activities. 

Showing copyrighted materials outside the class, such as in a workshop or during a campus event, is not regarded as fair use. You will need to get permission from the copyright owner or get a public performance rights (PPR) license for non-course related showing.

Purchasing a legal copy of a film, particularly commercial films, usually doesn’t include PPR. You will need to acquire a PPR license for a film to be shown in a non-classroom, non-instructional setting. The charge for a PPR license can go from $100-$1000 per film per screening. Check the film production studio, copyright holder, or distributor of the film you want to show to see whom to contact for PPR. You can also try PPR licensing agents, such as Swank Motion Pictures or Motion Picture Licensing.

Using open-source (OER) materials in class

OER logoMany Butte College instructors use open educational resources (OER) materials in class.  These resources use Creative Commons licenses which allow people to create, alter, and remix content that is produced with specific permissions.  Take a look at our guide to Open Educational Resources and Zero-Cost Textbooks to learn more about Creative Commons licenses. We also have a page of resources used in Butte College classes which will give an idea of what types or resources are available. If you would like more information about OER at Butte College or are considering adopting an OER resource, please contact Rachel Arteaga at 


This web site presents information about copyright law. The Butte College Library makes every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but does not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.