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Copyright for Faculty: Copyright Basics

Brief introduction to best practices and law regarding use of copyrighted material to be used in courses by faculty.

Message from Provost Dr. Maria Thompson

Copyright Law

The College’s migration to the new Blackboard platform provides an opportunity for us to refresh our understanding of--and commitment to complying with--federal copyright laws. Indeed, a cross-campus effort is currently underway to review our grasp of how these laws apply to various media and contexts, particularly courses delivered online.

SUNY Legal has recently weighed in on this subject, clarifying that the responsibility for complying with copyright laws and regulations falls to individual faculty members.

 If questions about permissions arise as you migrate course content and/or prepare your courses, please email Sue Clemons, the College’s Controller.  

Copyright Law

Copyright law exists to protect: “the authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.  This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.” (Copyright Basics, U.S. Copyright Office)

Obtaining Permission

Permission from copyright holders is often needed when creating course materials, research papers, and Web sites. You need to obtain permission when you use a work in a way that infringes on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder, i.e., reproducing part or all of a copyrighted work outside the boundaries of acceptable fair use.

Steps that need to be followed to obtain permission to use copyrighted material:

  1. Determine if permission is needed for the work you want to use.
  2. Identify the copyright holder or agent. 
  3. Send written request for permission to use. Remember to give yourself ample lead time, as the process for obtaining permissions can take months. Decide if you are willing to pay a licensing fee/royalty.
  4. If the copyright holder can't be located or is unresponsive (or if you are unwilling to pay a license fee), be prepared to use the work in a way that qualifies as fair use, or use alternative material.
  5. Consult others as needed.


In this blog post by Brown University professor and researcher John P. McCaskey talks about the importance of securing proper rights for course materials, respecting intellectual property, and setting a good example for both students and the broader academic community.




Using Content Licensed by the Library

Some points to remember about licensed resources:

  • Licenses can have terms that limit the uses granted by copyright exceptions or they can expand the rights.
  • Our Library licenses vary by publisher, so don't assume that something allowed by one publisher will be allowed by another publisher.
  • LINK!  Whenever possible use licensed library resources and link to the content, don’t post a copy anywhere.  (See How to Create Persistent Links on the Online Use page of this guide.)
  • Avoid systematic downloading of entire journal issues or chapters in an eBook.
  • Don’t e-mail articles and book chapters to someone who is not current SUNY Oneonta faculty, student, or staff.
  • Never use for commercial purposes.


The information found within this guide is not intended to serve as legal advice and should not be taken as such.

Link When Possible

In many cases, you can eliminate the need for permission or fee by simply giving your students a link to the work instead of making copies of it.  (See How to Create Persistent Links on the Online Use page of this guide.)

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses are free copyright licenses that: “provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of 'all rights reserved' to 'some rights reserved.'  Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.”  They also allow you to find content that you can freely and legally use.  (About Creative Commons)


Violation of copyright law can result in a legal action for an injunction, confiscation of copyright materials, and forfeiture of monetary damages paid to the copyright owner.  A person or institution who infringes a registered copyright may also be subject to attorney's fees and costs in enforcement actions.

Criminal penalties can be imposed for willful violations of a copyright for a financial or commercial nature.

For more information on copyright infringement and remedies see Chapter 5 of the U.S. Copyright Law.