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Education: Copyright for Teachers

Resources to support the students in the College of Education


Teachers can legally use copyrighted materials under three conditions:

  1. They have requested AND received permission from the copyright holder to use the work
  2. The work is in the public domain
  3. It is considered fair use

This page will help you to know how to determine if something is in the public domain or if your use of a work falls under fair use.

Additional information about copyright, including public domain, fair use, and using images, can be found on the Copyright and Fair Use Libguide.

Public Domain

What is public domain?

A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by everyone.

Works fall into the public domain for three main reasons:

  1. the term of copyright for the work has expired;
  2. the author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to perfect the copyright or
  3. the work is a work of the U.S. Government.

As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923. Another large block of works are in the public domain because they were published before 1964 and copyright was not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.) A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without copyright notice (copyright notice was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989).

Resources for finding and accessing materials in the public domain

Fair Use

Fair Use allows you to use copyrighted materials without permission. It is not sufficient to say that the use is for educational purposes and therefore fair use. A four-factor test must be applied and a balanced judgment must be made. The four factors are:

  1. Purpose or character of the use (educational or professional)
  2. Nature of the work used (published vs. unpublished; factual vs. creative)
  3. Portion or amount of the work used
  4. Impact on the market for the work (including the market for permissions)