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Copyright & Fair Use: FAQ

Frequently asked questions

Copyrighted material can be passed out to your students either in class or online via Bridges, if and ONLY if:

1.)The instructor is the copyright owner of the material, or

2.) The copyright owner grants permission (preferably in writing), or

3.) The material is in the public domain, or

4.)The use of the material is "fair use." Please refer back to the "Copyright Basics" page to make that determination.

Because of copyright law, one cannot just convert analog format to digital, even for educational purposes, unless the institution is the copyright owner of the material. For example, RWU does not own the copyright of the PBS videos we own, so we have no authority to convert the VHS tapes to DVDs. When this issue arose and a faculty member needed the DVD versions because of the classroom she was teaching in, we were able to locate a new box set of DVDs of the PBS series for a reasonable price. This is the typical process since VHS format is being phased out.

1.) Obtain permission from the copyright holder of the media, asking to temporarily load it into Bridges for student access, taking it down immediately after the class has viewed the content.

2.) Put a hard copy of the media on reserve at the library desk for students to check out for up to 3 hours to view on their laptops. If the library or faculty member doesn't own a copy, inquire with acquisitions to obtain a copy.

3.) In Bridges, provide a link to the streaming content, i.e. Netflix, Amazon, etc. This requires students to either have a Netflix or Amazon Prime account, OR Amazon offers thousands of titles for pay-per-download, which is usually around $2 per title.

You cannot upload a DVD into Bridges unless you obtain permission from the copyright holder of the content. Just because you own a copy of the DVD does not make you the copyright holder. This is normally the publisher. We will be happy to work with you to see if one of our streaming services has the title you need or something similar.

The library does not own the copyrights to the films in our collections, therefore, we cannot put them online without obtaining permission from the copyright holders. The library at this time does not purchase streaming licenses for popular films, but we do have a large selection of educational streaming media found in our databases Kanopy, Films on Demand, and Alexander Street Press, which you can link to in your Bridges classes. If you need to show a popular film for your distance students, we advise making sure you select a title that can be found online in a streaming database such as Netflix or Amazon. These sources are proprietary and students will need to pay a fee, but it will be minimal, especially on Amazon.

If you found the article online, just add the link in your Bridges class so students can easily access the original file themselves. If you have a hard copy of an article, and you'd like to scan it and upload it to Bridges, you cannot do so without the permission of the copyright holder. Try to find the article online and put the link in Bridges.

Yes. If you are a faculty, staff, or even student, the library can help provide information and guidance on copyright permissions. Just stop in the library and ask to speak with a librarian who is familiar with copyright law. Keep in mind, however, we only provide guidance - we are not a legal service!

Media Services is very happy to provide the service of converting VHS to DVD, if and only if we have obtained permission from the copyright holder of the material. Without permission, legally, they cannot proceed unless the material in question cannot be purchased at fair market price in its new format, and cannot be found digitally anywhere else.

As much as we would love to be able to copy entire textbooks for student access, it’s against the law as observed in Section 107 of title 17, United States Code as amended in 1990 and 1992. Fair Use states that copying "shall not substitute for the purchase of books, publishers’ reprints or periodicals,” and that “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 or periodical volume during one class term.” If it’s a text book (or any book), no more than one chapter, or 10% of the book (whichever is less) may be copied and passed out to students.

This article is short and does a great job explaining it: Is it Legal to Photocopy Textbooks?

Also helpful are pp. 6-7 of Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.

Yes, if it is your personal desk copy, you may put the book on reserve for your students.

Contact Me

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Lindsey Gumb
Lindsey Gumb
Scholarly Communications Librarian
Associate Professor

Roger Williams University Library
Bristol, RI
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