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Curriculum Resources: Copyright

Copyright for Teachers FAQs

Why are there copyright laws?


U.S. copyright law was designed to encourage new creations by: 

  • providing a reward* to creators of original works
  • while also limiting those rights so that others can build on previous creations


* the rights to copy, distribute, display, perform and/or create derivative works from the original work (and the right to transfer these rights to someone else)  more info

Who has copyright protection?


If you create an original work*, you own the copyright to it


*Original works do not include names, titles, facts, ideas, or short phrases. more info

*Work Made for Hire is another exception. If you created the work as part of the work you are paid to do, your employer generally owns the copyright on that work unless you and your employer have made other arrangements.



How can you tell if a work has copyright protection?


Assume it does, unless:

  • it is a U.S. federal government work (most do not have copyright protection although there are some exceptions*)


  • it is in the public domain (it was first published before 1924 or the copyright has expired or the creator has waived copyright)



*see Butler, R. P. (2011). Copyright for teachers and librarians in the 21st century. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, p. 24


What do you need to do when using someone else's work?


Any time you use* someone else's work, you should give them credit.**


If the work has copyright protection, you must also ask the the copyright holder for permission to use the work.***

(The copyright holder may freely give permission, but you need to ask and to document their permission in order to use their work without paying for it.)


* Using their work means: copying it, distributing it, publicly performing it, or creating derivatives from it.


** For more information on citing, please see the Citation Guides LibGuide.


*** There are some exceptions, though, such as the classroom and fair use exemptions.  

Please see other tabs in this box for information on these exceptions.


When is the classroom exemption applicable?


The classroom exemption applies if the use is all of the following:

  • in a nonprofit educational institution
  • in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction
  • in the course of face-to-face teaching activities

as long as the copyrighted work was legally obtained.  more info


The TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyrigth Harmonization Act) provides exemptions related to distance learning. These are shown in Section 110(2) of the Copyright Law.  Although the TEACH Act allows additional exemptions in addition to the classroom use exemptions, it also requiries the educational institution to meet a number of requirements to qualify.  If meeting these requirements is not feasible, the fair use exemption may be a better option.

see chapter 13 of Butler, R. P. (2011). Copyright for teachers and librarians in the 21st century. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

When is Fair Use applicable?


Fair Use is not as clear as the classroom exemption, but instead requires a case by case evaluation of the Four Factors:

  • Purpose and character of the use
•Educational and transformative* uses - help your case
  • Nature of the copyrighted work
•Fact based, published, and/or out of print works - help your case
  • Amount used
•Small amounts (and not the essence of the work) - help your case
  • Effect on the market
•No financial harm to the copyright holder - helps your case


*Transformative uses include news reporting, commentaries, and parodies

For more information, please see:


In some cases, creators of works waive their copyrights but do assign a license to their work that is less restrictive than copyright.


Examples of these less restrictive licenses include the Creative Commons licenses.  

Recommended Media Repositories


Email Butler University Libraries
Irwin Library: 317-940-9227
Science Library: 317-940-9937

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