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OERs at KCC: Copyright & Fair Use

Faculty Guide

The content on this guide was created by CUNY library faculty in consultation with the CUNY Office of General Counsel and is intended to support the CUNY community in making independent, informed decisions about copyright compliance and educational fair use. This guide does not provide legal advice. For comprehensive information about CUNY's Copyright and Fair Use guidelines, please visit CUNY's Office of Legal Affairs and Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs' Copyright Materials guide.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including scholarly and creative works. It gives creators certain exclusive rights. Creators do not have to register their work or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the work; the protection exists automatically from the time the work is created.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a limitation on the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. If a proposed use meets the “fair use” criteria, and the user hasn’t agreed to abide by other terms—such as through a license agreement or a website’s terms of usea copyrighted work may be used without permission.

Creating Content vs. Using Content

Copyright protections apply to both scholarly and creative works that you create and works that you use.  

If you want to use a work for a project or class, and are unsure if you need permission from the copyright holder, you can consult this checklist created by the CUNY Office of Legal Affairs and read about the copyright exceptions (like "fair use") in the FAQ section on the right side of this page. 

Even though copyright protections are automatic, there is also a lot of multi-media and educational content available for reuse. In cases where an individual wants to make a work they created available for others to use, they may opt to use a Creative Commons license that specifies exactly how others can use their work. The Creative Commons search widget  on the right side of this page will let you search for reusable multimedia content. Scholars can also opt to publish their works in Open Access journals or negotiate with publishers to retain some rights to their work.

What can you do to make your own work available? You can license your own scholarly and creative work through Creative Commons or use an author addendum before agreeing to a restrictive publication agreement. 

Copyright: Forever Less One Day


Making Instructional Materials Available to Students (print or electronic)

Generally, here are some best practice guidelines:

  • Select only one article from a journal issue or one chapter of a book.
  • Use only two or three articles from the same journal.
  • Choose new articles or book chapters each semester.
  • If you want to use several book chapters, put the book on reserve at the library.
  • Select a textbook for the course and supplement it with selected readings.
  • Make copies of only required readings, and share a list of optional readings.
  • Instead of making copies or attaching PDFs to an email, course website or course management page, link to electronic versions of the readings via persistent URLs on library databases or the open Web.
  • Consider paying permission fees for creating a "course pack" of your readings that you can distribute electronically and use from term to term.

For more information, see "Making Instructional Materials Available to Students" from Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office.

See also:

Showing Film and Other Media in the Course of Teaching

See the section on "Showing Film and Other Media in the Course of Teaching" section from the Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office. 

Using Student Work

Students own the copyrights to their academic work(s). You may use the simple release form below to request the use of their work and use their name if using that work as an example in offering a course. Follow copyright Fair Use guidelines and proper citation procedures if you are using the student work in the body of your own work.

 Student Work Release Form


The content on this tab has been adapted from CUNY Office of Library Services Copyright and Fair Use guide.