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Guide to copyright basics and guidelines at Bluffton University

Print copies in the classroom

Instructors may make copies for classroom use in accordance with guideline restrictions.  The best suggestion is to perform a four-factor Fair Use examination for each reproduction/photocopying case. Generally speaking:

Single copies may be made of any of the following by/for instructors for scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class:

  • One chapter from a book;
  • An article from a periodical, journal, or newspaper;
  • A short story, short essay, or short poem, whether or not from a collective work;
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper.

Multiple copies (not to exceed more than one copy per student in a course) may be made by/for the instructor of the course for student learning use or discussion.  The following three criteria must be met:

  • The copying meets the tests of brevity and spontaneity (as defined below).
  • The copying meets the cumulative effect test (as defined below).
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright. An example is "this material may be protected by Copyright law (title 17, US Code)."


Brevity: Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, (usually varies 3-8 pages depending on size of page and type) or an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10 percent of the work, whichever is greater.

Spontaneity: The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and the inspiration and decision to use the work.  The moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

Cumulative effect: Copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.

See also:  Rules for Reproducing Text Materials for Use in Class (Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use guide)


Media use in the classroom

Section 110 of the copyright law allows for clips, complete videos, and music to be studied in the classroom setting.  If a legally-made copy of the media is being used and is related to the content of the course, such use is typically protected by an exemption in the copyright law. 

However, if a clip, complete video, or music recording is presented in class just for fun, the presentation becomes a public performance and requires permission.

If the clip, complete video, or music recording is an off-air recording, special requirements apply.  Stanford University provides a useful overview of the requirements.

Subscription services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video will articulate in their membership agreements whether or not such an agreement allows for the legal streaming of content in a classroom or other venue.  Such agreements are contractual obligations that supersede any fair use or other copyright exemption.