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Copyright & Fair Use

Using Copyrighted Material in the Classroom

Copyright law allows for works (texts, images, video, etc.) to be used in a face-to-face classroom setting at a nonprofit educational institution as long as the items have been obtained lawfully. However, repeated use of the same materials in a classroom may weigh against fair use, especially where such use may impact the profits of educational publishers. Instructors are also expected to obtain permission to use items that they intend to place in an academic course pack to be distributed to an entire class. 

Can I Upload Copyrighted Material to an Online Course

The ability of an instructor to use copyrighted works are less expansive in an online educational environment. Current copyright law protects nearly all readings and other course materials that instructors might place in an online learning management system. Faculty may upload materials ONLY if any of the following apply:

  1. The material is in the public domain.
  2. The instructor owns the copyright to the material.
  3. The copyright owner of the material grants permission in writing.
  4. The use of the material is a "fair use" under the law.
  5. The material falls within another statutory exception.

The Teach Act (2002) may also allow for additional use of materials for online education. However, it does have its limits, most notably a prohibition on sharing textbook-like materials traditionally expected to be purchased by students. 

Link to Jefferson Libraries E-resources

If you wish to upload a digitized version of a copyrighted work in Canvas (such as a PDF), first check if the material can be accessed through one of the resources available at your campus's Library. Due to copyright law, it is better practice to link directly to licensed material rather than to upload a new copy. 

Thousands of journals and ebooks are available through Jefferson University Librarys' licenses. Faculty can post links to library resources in Canvas, and students can use those links to legally access resources through the library. Please read these instructions on how to use our proxy link to library resources available to students from off campus. You can also contact your campus's library if you need assistance creating direct links to the library’s licensed journals and ebooks. Please also contact the library if you wish to use an ebook in your class, as some may have limited concurrent user licenses.

Open Educational Resources

"Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials...that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions" (UNESCO).

Learn more about how to find and use OER in the classroom by going to Jefferson Library's OER Guide. Librarians are available to guide instructors through the process of identifying authoritative materials.


The information presented in this guide is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Matters of law are subject to interpretation, and University Counsel is the source of authoritative information for Thomas Jefferson University. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to Thomas Jefferson University, please contact the Office of University Counsel. Copies of TJU Policies can also be accessed from on campus.

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