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Copyright FAQ

What Do I Need to Consider While Making Copies for an Online Class?

If you are making digital copies available for sharing on your Canvas course, please consider the following:

  • Making copies of materials (by downloading and uploading files or by scanning yourself from physical documents) can present some copyright issues, but they're not different from deciding whether to share content when you are meeting in person.
  • It’s best to be deliberate about copying entire texts. You may have seen recommendations in the past to stay under 10% of a full text. If you need the entire text for the purposes of the lesson, fair use could apply during this time, but you must weigh the four factors of fair use and assess the risk. The fair use analysis for amount, for example, is to use as much as necessary to serve your purpose. Do not use more than necessary to serve the pedagogical purpose - limit copies to what is absolutely necessary to complete the class.
  • These copies should be limited to the course participants, so uploading them to Canvas fulfills this requirement.
  • Where an instructor doesn't feel comfortable relying on fair use, a subject librarian may be able to suggest alternative content.
  • (Modified from Copyright Considerations for the Harvard Community in Shifting Courses from In-Person to Online During the COVID-19 Crisis.)

What Are Safe Alternatives to Downloading Articles?

When you wish to assign your students to read an article from a journal that is in the library database, the best practice is to link the student directly to the article using the persistent link, which will send users through the proxy server to the item.

This is a better practice than, for example, downloading a pdf of the article and uploading that article to the course page.  In that instance, although you have the right to provide the copy of the material to your students for reading (make sure fair use factors are applied), it makes it much easier for your student to violate copyright by posting the article somewhere public or forwarding it via email to non-University colleagues.

See directions for creating permanent links in Library Resources for Canvas.

Where Can I Find Public Domain Books?

Search Engine


Selected Collections


Be sure to check the license information on all linked content.  The linked material has been chosen as examples of Public Domain and Creative Commons Licensed works, however, it is the researcher's obligation to determine any use restrictions when republishing or otherwise distributing materials from the linked sites.

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