Copyright basics for instructors, authors, and students.

Teaching with Copyrighted Materials

The very first section of 17 U.S. Code § 110 gives classroom teachers broad exemption rights regarding copyright. Teachers are exempt from copyright if the following criteria are met:

  • teachers and students are face-to-face
  • in a classroom or other type of educational space
  • at a non-profit educational institution

In this situation you may display, read, or show any copyrighted material with your class. This includes excerpts from documentaries, films, books, articles, podcasts, etc.

Fair Use gives instructors the ability to make multiple copies of copyrighted materials (aka handouts) for class use. The text of the law states that "education (including multiple copies for classroom use)" is a Fair Use of copyrighted material. This means you can share print copies of copyrighted materials in the classroom.

Multimedia use in the classroom is simple, because it is specifically allowed by law. You can use library materials or other materials you have obtained legally. You can also look for copyright-free multimedia resources for class use . Several large sites like Flickr and Google Images offer the ability to limit a search by license, allowing you to find resources that are available for educational and reuse purposes. Other library guides offer more resources

Reserve Services at MSE Library will help you with both your digital and print course readings.

Questions about using digital files for teaching that aren't course readings can go to your librarian or the Center for Educational Resources.

While copyright law makes broad allowances for in-person teaching, online teachers must take advantage of Fair Use, described in 17 U.S. Code § 107.  Fair Use favors educational uses, particularly in nonprofit institutions. This guide provides more information about the four factors of Fair Use here. Some basic actions will help you decrease your risk:

  • use only material necessary to the instruction that is taking place
  • share the material only with students enrolled in the class (course management systems ensure this through password protection)
  • take down material once the course is finished
  • link to material if possible, rather than scanning and uploading
  • utilize materials provided by the Johns Hopkins Libraries
  • use Open Educational Resources (see next tab)  

Reserve Services at MSE Library will help you with both your digital and print course readings. They will ensure you use library resources properly and that they appear in your course site correctly.

Questions about using digital files for teaching that aren't course readings can go to your librarian or the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation.

A group of copyright librarians at universities have written about Fair Use and online teaching during the pandemic that you may find useful. Public Statement: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are materials specifically created for online teaching that allow for reuse and adaptation. Please see the Open Educational Resources guide for more information.

If you are particularly interested in copyright-free multimedia resources, please consult the guides below.

Finding content that allows reuse through an appropriate Creative Commons license or is in the Public Domain is the best option. If you have to use copyrighted material, be sure that what you use directly supports an instructional purpose and that you use no more than required.

Questions about locating and using digital multimedia for teaching can go to your librarian, the Center for Educational Resources, or Robin Sinn.




Copyrighted material can be used in social annotation tools for pedagogical purposes, subject to an instructor’s fair use analysis for each resource to be used. Library resources and materials from ereserves can be used, again, subject to your own fair use evaluation. Use of these tools as described applies to synchronous and asynchronous classrooms.  The social annotation platforms are not a substitute for the purpose of making material freely available to students.

The University expects faculty to respect copyright and to determine if your posted content complies with copyright law. Before uploading copyrighted content into these tools:

  • You affirm the content was lawfully acquired


  • You are the copyright holder; or
  • You have obtained express permission from the copyright holder or determined such content is in the public domain; or
  • You have completed a fair use evaluation (learn more and see fair use checklist) for each resource you wish to use and determined, in good faith, after reasonable inquiry, that the use of the copyrighted work is a “fair use” under copyright law.

(Adopted from Yale University Canvas @ Yale Help Site - External App: Perusall - Integrating with Canvas)

Some Recommended Best Practices

  • Harvard Business Publishing materials have restrictive licensing that prevents their use in these tools.
  • Materials should be restricted to students enrolled in the course and not available for download.  Materials may be made available for download to support individual student accessibility needs.
  • Material should be deleted once the semester is over. 
  • Please check with your school’s Teaching and Learning Center for any additional best practices.







For Your Students

Students need to learn something about copyright so they understand why they need to cite. Library resources that students can refer to for quick pointers include:



Librarians created an online course titled Avoiding Plagiarism at JHU. Students can access it through the MyLearning site, which is located in the Education section of the JHU Portal. The course includes seven modules, with pre- and post-tests. The objectives are

  • Identify a definition of plagiarism
  • Recognize examples of plagiarism
  • Determine methods of avoiding plagiarism
  • Analyze why students plagiarize
  • Evaluate the context and impact of plagiarism



The Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) manages a license to Turnitin, a plagiarism detection software, for the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering. See this page for information about accessing and using Turnitin.

Course requirements often place students' work online, in a publicly accessible fashion. When this happens, copyright needs to be followed and attributions should be made.

If students collaborate with others or with faculty, best practices are emerging to protect their intellectual property and their privacy. Two examples are

The publication and sharing properties of the web make authorship, attribution, and the reuse of material tricky propositions. Feel free to reach out to the library for discussion of these topics.