Junior High

High School


What is Copyright Law?

Copyright law provides authors of creative works with protections and rights over the works they create.  Copyright extends to any literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, audio visual, or architectural work, including computer programs and website content.  For a work to qualify for copyright protection it does not matter whether it includes a copyright notice, whether it is distributed in a printed, physical format or in a digital format via the Internet, or even whether it is published or unpublished - copyright protection goes into effect as soon as pen is set to paper, fingers are touched to keyboard, or the record button is pressed.  Copyright gives creators exclusive rights to determine how their work is reproduced, distributed, performed, displayed, or transmitted.

Because copyright applies to nearly all of the media resources that can be utilized by teachers and students in the classroom, it is important that educators understand and follow copyright law so that they can provide the highest-quality resources to their students while respecting the legal rights of copyright holders.  Educators also have the responsibility to lead their students by example and provide instruction in copyright law.  Educators should ensure that students are learning and applying good practices in regard to copyright as students use and create copyrighted materials.

What Materials Can I Use in My Classroom?

As educators utilize media in association with their classroom instruction, they have numerous resources and options available that respect copyright law.  These include:

  1. Material purchased, licensed, or created for school use by the school, District, or state. (see sources below)
  2. Materials created by the educator, purchased by the educator, or for which the educator has obtained permission from the copyright holder for classroom use.
  3. Materials made available for use via a Creative Commons license or similar notice of permission.
  4. Materials available in the Public Domain.
  5. Fair use of materials without permission from the copyright holder when the educator, in good faith, determines that his use falls within the factors defined in section 107 of U.S. copyright law.


Sources for Materials Purchased, Licensed, or Created for School Use

Media Center - Your school's library media center has thousands of books and other materials - you can search through them on your school's library site:  https://library.davis.k12.ut.us/
Your school also may have school-level access to eBooks, databases, or other resources - check with your librarian, school technology specialist, or principal to find out about such resources.

Safari Montage - The District's content management system - has thousands of videos and other digital resources that are fully licensed and available for your use - more licensed resources are added to it on a regular basis.  Access Safari Montage at: http://media.davis.k12.ut.us/SAFARI/montage/login.php

District Teaching and Learning Resources and Digital Textbooks - Check with your District Content Specialist.

Overdrive - eBooks, Audiobooks, and Professional Development Library.    

Utah's Online Library - The materials held in the many databases of Utah's Online Library are already licensed and available for use in the classroom, including the videos housed in eMedia. https://onlinelibrary.uen.org/

Public Libraries - Even more databases and resources are available through public libraries and their websites.

Creative Commons

Many creators of content now license their work through Creative Commons licenses, which explicitly tell users (including educators and students) what they are allowed to do with the work.  Many Creative Commons licenses simply require attribution, and that any resulting work also is made available via a similar Creative Commons license.  You can begin searching for Creative Commons materials at: http://search.creativecommons.org/

Public Domain

Public Domain resources include works created by the United States government, works created before the advent of U.S. copyright law, and works of sufficient age that copyright protection has lapsed.  Copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923.  Works published in 1923 will fall into the public domain in Dec. 2019.  In 2020, works published in 1924 will expire, and so on.)

Data bases such as Project Gutenberg (http:/www.gutenberg.org/), Open Library (http://openlibrary.org/), and the Internet Archive (http://archive.org/) are good places to start looking for electronic resources that are in the public domain, as they have already done the work in determining that the resource is in fact in the public domain or that, if under copyright protection, the material has been made available to the public by the copyright holder.

This chart provided by Cornell University provides detailed current information if you need to determine whether a work has entered the Public Domain.

Fair Use

Fair use is a provision of copyright law that places limits on the exclusive rights of copyright holders.  Fair use is particularly applicable to teachers and students, as it allows copyrighted materials to be used and reproduced for purposes "such as criticism, comment news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research."  the fair use section of the law does not detail specific limits on usage or comment on specific situations; rather it provides four general factors to consider in determining whether an individual use of a copyrighted material qualifies as a fair use.  The four factors of consideration are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • Is your use non-commercial?
  • Is your use for purposes of teaching?

2. The nature of the copyrighted work.

  • Is the original work mostly fact as opposed to mostly fiction or opinion?

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

  • Are you copying only a small part of the original work?
  • Are you copying only a relatively insignificant part of  the original work as opposed to the most important part?

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

  • Does your use leave unaffected any profits that the copyright owner can make, as opposed to displacing some potential sales or potential licenses or reprint right?

Keep in mind that even in an educational setting, it is not fair use to copy for a "commercial motive" or to copy "systematically" -  that is, "where the aim is to substitute for subscription or purchase."  No factor by itself will determine whether a particular use is "fair."   All four factors must be weighted together in light of the circumstances.

The materials used should meet professional standards for curriculum.  Use only what is necessary for the educational goal or purpose.  Often this may mean using a small portion, clip or excerpt, rather than an entire work.

By legislative design, these four factors of fair use provide great flexibility so that they can be applied individually to diverse and unforeseen scenarios.  Whenever an educator is considering using a copyrighted resource in the classroom without license or permission, he should specifically consider the application of these four factors to his intended use before using the resource.  The criteria weighing for or against fair use will differ for each possible usage.

Fair use is a tool to balance the rights of users with the rights of owners - educators need to apply reason to reach a decision.  The principles and limitations above are designed to guide your reasoning.  If you have questions, contact the District Policy and Law Office. 

Obtain Permission

If you plan to use a resource that is not accessible or available in any of the ways found here, you should obtain permission from the copyright holder to reproduce a work for educational purposes.  The Copyright Clearance Center (http://www.copyright.com/) is a vendor that provides centralized clearance services on behalf of many copyright holders.

Always give proper credit when using copyrighted material.



Center for Social Media "The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education". Washington, D.C.: American University School of Communication, 2012

Copyright Law of the United States of America.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office.

United States Copyright Office. "Circular 1: Copyright Basics." Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office.

United States Copyright Office. "Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office.