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Copyright Guide

17 U.S.C. § 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

— 17 U.S.C. § 107


The information presented here is only general information. Legal advice must be provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship specifically with reference to all the facts of the particular situation under consideration. Such is not the case here, and accordingly, the information presented here must not be relied on as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney. 

Legal matters concerning the College at Geneseo should be referred to SUNY Office of General Counsel.

TEACH Act (2002)

The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act (2002) was signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 2, 2002, especially clarifying what uses are permissible with regard to distance education. It is not an extension of Fair Use, and it often allows a more permissive argument for educators than Fair Use allows.

Use resources with open licenses

There is a growing movement in education to create and use educational materials that are openly available to everyone. These resources are free to access and in most cases free to reuse, modify, and redistribute. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines these Open educational resources (OER) as "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge."

Using OERs in your courses keeps instructional materials affordable for students, promotes a culture of collaboration and sharing, and eliminates concerns about applying fair use to avoid potential copyright violations.

Each of the example pages in this guide contain links to sites that can help you identify material that is freely available with open licenses.

For more information on the OER movement and open licensing, see the links below.

OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search) is a search tool that aims to make the discovery of open content easier. Currently, OASIS is developed and managed at SUNY Geneseo's Milne Library.

Use library-licensed resources

Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo purchases and subscribes to electronic resources including online journals, e-books, reference databases, and an image database. These resources are governed by license agreements, most of which allow the licensed material to be used for educational purposes by "authorized users." Authorized users are typically defined as Geneseo students, faculty, staff, and researchers and walk-in users of the library. 

Most license agreements allow authorized users to:

  • Download, print, and save single copies of items for their personal use
  • Incorporate links to items in electronic coursepacks, reserves and course management systems, and instructor websites
  • Provide single print or electronic copies of individual items to other authorized users for noncommercial educational purposes (including to each student in a class at Geneseo)
  • Provide single print or electronic copies of individual items to third-party colleagues for scholarly, educational, or research use

Using library-licensed resources for online courses avoids the need to perform fair use analyses or to seek permission from rightholders.

When using library-licensed resources, be sure to:

  • Use the link (either a permalink or DOI) to the resource provided in GloCat or the database. This will ensure that students who are off-campus can access the material.
  • Use the materials for courses offered through SUNY Geneseo only.

If you have any questions about licensing terms for a particular resource, please contact your liaison librarian

Use material in the public domain

Works that are not subject to copyright are in the public domain. Public domain works are freely available for use without restriction.

A copyrighted work enters the public domain when the term of copyright protection expires or when its creator chooses to place the work in the public domain (as often indicated by the CC0 license from Creative Commons).

Determining the public domain status of a particular work can be very complicated, but as a general rule of thumb, works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain.

For more information, please see these resources:

Seek permission from the rightsholders

If you want to use third-party copyrighted material for online instruction, you believe that your intended use does not qualify as fair use, and you have determined that SUNY Geneseo does not already have a license to use this material for your purpose, then you may seek permission from the rights holder. There may be a fee involved.

In some cases, you may need to research who owns the copyright and make a request to that person or entity directly. In other cases, you may be able to license use of the work through a collective rights agency.

The resources below provide detailed instructions on obtaining permissions for different types of media.