Copyright Basics

All course materials online are protected under the Copyright Laws of the United States (Title 17 U.S. Code) governing the making of photocopies of copyrighted material. Under the terms of the TEACH Act, 2002, (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization) faculty can be named in copyright litigation. This law also clarifies how faculty can limit their liability in the use of copyrighted material.

Contact MU’s DMCA Representative: Dr. Monica Brooks,  Assistant Vice President for Information Technology: Online Learning and Libraries, x6474

2009-10 Copyright Training Schedule:

All faculty, staff, TA/GA students, are invited to attend any of the following copyright seminars designed to keep us abreast of Title 17 copyright law and the application of fair use guidelines to the higher education environment. If you are using any kind of A/V and electronic curriculum support materials in a traditional or online classroom, we can help provide some tools to aid you in making informed copyright use decisions. No RSVP is needed; just join us!

Location: Drinko Library Presentation Room 402 or MUGC 134


  • September 22, Wednesday, 10-11am
  • October 19, Tuesday, 1:30-2:30pm
  • November 11, Thursday, 10-11am


  • February 8, Tuesday, 10-11am
  • April 12, Tuesday, 1:30-2:30pm


Faculty need to take copyright law very seriously when designing online or traditional courses at Marshall University. It used to be that a faculty member could claim ignorance and avoid being fined despite a copyright violation. That is no longer true. When it comes to copyright law, faculty and staff may be personally liable for fines or criminal charges.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you don’t know that you are infringing, you still will be liable for damages – only the amount of the award will be affected.

Copyright owners have the right to sue for damages for information or intellectual property of theirs that is used without their permission. The penalties for infringement are very harsh; the court can award up to $150,000 for each separate act of willful infringement. (Willful infringement means that you knew you were infringing and you did it anyway.)

Please note that the individual who takes an allegedly infringing action is not necessarily protected from a lawsuit if Marshall University is sued under the Copyright Law.

More On Copyright Issues

There is one special provision of the law that allows a court to withhold damages even if the copying at issue was not a fair use. It is called the good faith fair use defense [17 USC 504(c)(2)]. This defense applies if the person who copied material reasonably believed that what he or she did was a fair use – as would likely be the case if you followed the guidelines below. If you qualify for this defense, it makes you a very poor prospect for a lawsuit.

If you disregard the sound advice about fair use specified here, a court would be free to award the highest level of damages available.

Fair Use Rules of Thumb
Limit reserve or online course materials to:

  • Single articles or chapters; several charts, graphs or illustrations; or other small parts of a work
  • A small part of the materials required for the course
  • Copies of materials that you or the library already possesses legally
    (i.e., by purchase, license, interlibrary loan, etc.)


  • Any copyright notice on the original
  • Appropriate citations and attributions to the source
  • A Section 108(f)(1) notice.

Time Limit:
Limit access to students enrolled in the class. Terminate access at the end of the class term. Please note that this means you may use copyrighted material for a class one time.

Get permission for materials that you will use repeatedly for the same class. If you send out a legitimate request for permission and do not receive a response, you can use the material in question without violating copyright law. Just be sure that you can document you made the request.

Below is a list of very helpful sites which offer useful and relevant information on copyright law.

Copyright@Marshall University
A complete depository of information related to copyright law and how it applies at Marshall University.

Fair Use Basics
How to use copyrighted material appropriately and legally in teaching-from Kansas State U.

Copyright Ownership Tutorial
From the University of Texas

Common Questions. Direct Answers
Common sense answers to copyright questions on software, video, the Internet, and on infringements.

Enacted by Congress in Fall 2002, this new law fully revises Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act governing the lawful uses of existing copyrighted materials in distance education. The law specifies the terms under which instructors can clip pieces of text, images, sound, and other works and include them in distance education.

TEACH Act Copyright Crash Course
Helpful information on how to understand the TEACH Act and apply it.

What is new in the TEACH Act?
A common sense explanation from the University of Washington.