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Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching

A guide for faculty, staff, and students at Penn about how to obtain, manage, and understand copyright issues for their work

Who owns copyright over my teaching materials?

  • Under the University's Copyright Policy, faculty "own the copyright to works resulting from their research, teaching and writing" with the noted exceptions (for example research grants that specify otherwise).
  • Consistent with that policy, and with the exception of course, program, and school arrangements that specify a different ownership model, the copyrights in course materials an instructor creates for online delivery without substantial use of University resources are owned by the instructor.
  • Such material may not be copied or redistributed by the University or by students without the written approval of the instructor.
  • If a faculty member has used copyrighted material that belongs to others (images, sound recordings, extensive quotation) for their teaching material, s/he must either obtain permission or only use material under "fair use" guidelines.

Audio/video Recordings of Class Sessions

Who owns the Audio/video Recordings of Class Sessions?

  • Recordings of synchronous class sessions made in Zoom or other applications are owned by the University, but will not be reused or further distributed by the University without consent of the instructor.
  • For best practices and technical assistance on recording class sessions, instructors may refer to this resource from the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Can Students Independently Record Class Sessions?

  • Per the Faculty Handbook, "The unauthorized copying of copyrighted media by staff, faculty, or students," will not be tolerated.
  • Students are not permitted to share, copy, or distribute recordings of live class sessions or any prerecorded class content without the permission of the University and the Instructor.
  • Students may not make their own recording of class sessions, as these actions are a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity.  

Can I post published articles for my courses?

  • Posting the entirety of a copyrighted work (articles, images, video, audio) on a public-facing website (available to the world) without first asking permission of the copyright holder is likely copyright infringement. You may, however, be able to post an excerpt of the work if it constitutes a fair use, or is not an infringement under another copyright law exception.

  • Under certain circumstances (see below), it may be permissible to post copyrighted material to a closed website (for example, a course site limited only to students in the class for a limited amount of time).

  • When possible, you should link to licensed library resources where permissions have already been granted.  This guidance covers linking to the resource, not copying the material (pdf, video, etc.) and then posting the file on your website or in courseware.

When is it permissible to post copyrighted material to a course site?

  • In some circumstances, it may be possible to post copyrighted materials (for a limited duration) to a closed course site (limited only to students in a certain class).
  • Before posting in-copyright material to a course site, the instructor should review the principles of fair use to ensure that their proposed use is measured, and falls within these guidelines. 

What is the TEACH Act?

Historically, educators in nonprofit educational institutions that taught classes face-to-face have enjoyed a great deal of freedom and flexibility under the law to read aloud and teach from books, play movies or songs, or even act out plays. The same freedom was not always present in the online / distance learning environment because of concerns that the extensive copying of a creative work to facilitate teaching from it would result in market displacement, or otherwise harm copyright owners. With the rise and popularity of distance learning programs, the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act ("TEACH Act") was passed in 2002 as a way to expand the ability of online educators to perform and display in-copyright works in the digital classroom.  The TEACH Act redefines the terms and conditions upon which accredited, nonprofit educational institutions in the United States can use in-copyright materials in distance education and by other digital means without having to seek permission from the copyright holder or a payment of fees each and every time.  While the TEACH Act tries to expand the rights of educators within the digital classroom to show or perform more works, the Act has a number of requirements to fit within the safe harbor it creates. 

Some of the requirements for the TEACH Act to apply include:

  • the materials used cannot have been produced or marketed primarily for use in distance education
  • the portions of dramatic works (for example, plays and films) must be “reasonable and limited." 
  • access to content must, “to the extent technologically feasible,” be limited to students enrolled in the course
  • technological protection measures (for example, digital rights management (DRM)) should be used so that works displayed are only accessible during the class session and cannot be redistributed by students to others
  • any DRM already used by rightsholders should not be tampered with.

There can be civil or criminal penalties for faculty, students or relevant staff. There also can be injunctions issued (for example, a court could issue an order for someone to stop doing an activity, such as posting infringing materials in a course reserves site). In general, if someone is found guilty of infringing a copyright, the court can award statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per infringement of each work. If the court finds an infringement was willful, the court may increase the damages for each infringement up to $150,000 per infringement of each work. If a court finds that an infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted a copyright infringement, the court may reduce the damages to as low as $200 per infringement. Importantly, a court can refuse to award statutory damages at all when library personnel are making photocopies as part of their employment, and believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, that the copying was a fair use. See 17 USC 504(c)(2)(i).

How can I utilize the TEACH Act?

In order to utilize the TEACH Act the following conditions must be met:

  • The copy of the work used must be “lawfully made."  This means you cannot use bootleg versions of materials to make your copies for the digital classroom. 
  • The portions used must also be “reasonable and limited."  Reasonable and limited is not defined and there is no hard and fast rule or percent, but it may be more limited than what you can display or perform within a face-to-face classroom.
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) on the material should not be broken.  There are limited circumstances which can be found here -, that describe how DRM can be broken.  These rules can change every three years. 
  • The material is only available to students registered in course.
  • Informational material and policies about copyright must be provided in connection with the material.  Links to these copyright guide and other Penn policies related to acceptable use of copyrighted materials would satisfy this requirement. 
  • A notice must appear that the material is copyrighted – our recommended text is available at, though it does not have to be that exact same text provided it communicates the same information. 
  • Protection must be added to the material to ensure that it cannot be copied downstream.  
  • The material must be protected in some way beyond password protection.  An example would be through the use of DRM technology. 

These are only a few of the Act's 22 separate requirements.  The University of Texas has a user-friendly checklist that can help. 

Many instructors find that the TEACH Act's requirements are too cumbersome and numerous to consistently apply, and instead turn to fair use to fill in some of the gaps that the TEACH Act does not cover.  Fair use is a powerful and important tool for educators, but it is not without its reasonable limits.  Specifically, factor four of the test looks at the market harm that might result to the rights-holder if his/her/ze's work is copied extensively without permission.  Placing the work in an online environment may make it more likely that a work is further copied or distributed, or that the market for a particular work is impacted.  

Copyright Notice

Instructors who scan and mount their own electronic readings should include a copyright statement at the beginning of each protected document. The Library uses the text below:

Warning concerning copyright restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproduction of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If electronic transmission of reserve materials is used for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

How do I link to library resources?

  • Find the article or e-book in the appropriate database, e-journal or within Franklin.
  • Identify the persistent URL for the resource (this will probably not be the URL that appears in your browser's address bar).
  • For courses in Canvas:
    • Use the 'Penn Libraries Course Reserve' tool in your course site to request Library service for articles and book chapters, or
    • Follow the directions in the 'Adding Content' section of Canvas Support for Faculty and Staff.
  • For other websites:
    • When you post the persistent URL it will need to be preceded by the proxy prefix  (there should be no spaces between the prefix and the persistent URL, e.g.

Teaching with Coursera

For instructors utilizing Coursera (, the massive open online courseware (MOOC) used by Penn and many other universities, there are several special copyright considerations.

  • Coursera is a for-profit company.  Therefore, in considering whether to use "fair use" for reproducing materials, you may need to make a determination more conservatively.
  • Even though Coursera is a platform designed for teaching, instructors in Coursera have to reproduce images online, similar to how one might reproduce images in a eBook.  It may also be helpful to review the "Publishing" section of this guide as well and to follow the guidelines there when reproducing images in a Coursera course.
  • For more information about copyright issues for Coursera and other MOOCs, please review the "Coursera and MOOCs" section of this guide.

Need help?

For further assistance with copyright issues, you can begin with your subject specialist. You can also contact our Copyright Advisor for further referrals.

For questions about use of materials on reserve, contact Van Pelt Reserves or the librarian at your reserve location.


Additional Resources

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