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Copyright: A Faculty Guide

Answers to common copyright questions asked by librarians and faculty


This guide is intended for informational purposes only. Library staff members cannot give legal advice. For legal advice, our users must contact an intellectual property attorney. Legal counsel for Calvin is Randy Vogelzang, Director of Gift Planning and Major Gifts. (

We continue to update the FAQ based on questions received from Calvin faculty. While we cannot guarantee access to every specific resource that you request, we are committed to helping you explore your options, both as creators and users of information, within the scope of copyright law.

Copyright Course Planning Checklist

The purpose of copyright comes from the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clause 8. It states: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

What do you need to know about navigating copyright for your courses? Here's a quick checklist of action points for you to move through as you prepare instruction around copyrighted materials:

  • Consider your informational needs thoroughly - ask whether you need all or part of a particular work to be shared among the entire class or a portion of your class and whether for a limited time or for the length of the course. This may help the librarians identify the correct way to use your copyrighted sources or alternative sources if your first choices are not available.
  • Keep in mind that having alternative sources or considering other ways to structure your assignments can give you more flexibility and options for your course.
  • If posting materials online via Moodle, first ask yourself:
    • Is this material copyrighted? (If in the public domain, it does not fall under copyright protection and you may use freely). 
    • Does it qualify for Fair Use (you may use portions of copyrighted works for educational purposes only)?
    • Is it available through the library or open access collections (open access and library materials will offer free access but may be subject to licensing or contract restrictions such as number of users logged in at one time or limited checkout periods)?
    • Is it available through Calvin's Copyright Clearance database (Calvin pays for access to a body of copyrighted texts for educational use, which you can search for through RightFind)?
  • Search for your sources in the Hekman Library. Many materials are already online, such as journal articles or e-books, and may be shared by posting their permalinks in your Moodle or Canvas course pages.
  • Consult the library's OER Guide. We've compiled lists of resources for finding open education textbooks and also open access repositories like the Internet Archive -- use these suggestions to find materials for class available copyright-free online.
  • Use the Copyright Clearance Center's RightFind Academic to search for your desired source(s) and see if they are in the database. If so, it's likely you may use the source without having to seek permission. You will first need to set up a free account in RightFind. 
  • Contact your liaison librarian for further help and other options for course materials, though we cannot always guarantee access to a specific resource. 


Copyright involves a complex network of legal protections for published works. While these are in place to restrict use of these works while protecting the rights of the creators, there are a few particular exemptions for educational use. Here are a few definitions of the major policies, standards, and tools to help you better understand copyright compliance:

  • Copyright: a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for "original works of authorship." Copyright literally means the right to copy, but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work.
  • Fair Use: a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the legal framework for determining whether something is a fair use.
  • Public Domain: refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission.
  • TEACH Act: (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act) was signed into law in 2002. It clarifies what uses are permissible with regard to distance education and explains the requirements that a university must abide by in order to be in compliance.
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act: is a 1998 copyright law that implements two earlier treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to bypass digital rights management or DRM. It also criminalizes the act of bypassing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. 
  • Controlled Digital Lending: is the digital equivalent of traditional library lending. A library can digitize a book it owns and lend out a secured digital version to one user at a time, in place of the physical item. Learn more about it in this short video.
  • Creative Commons: is a license that is applied to a work that is protected by copyright. It's not separate from copyright, but instead is a way of easily sharing a copyrighted work. Learn more about it in this short video. Creative Commons licenses explained (Christine Fruin, ATLA).
  • Orphan work: a copyright-protected work for which rightsholders cannot be determined or contacted. Sometimes the names of the originators or rightsholders are known, yet it is impossible to contact them because additional details cannot be found.
  • Copyfraud: erroneously claiming rights to a work of authorship.
  • Copyright Clearance Center license - provides reproduction and distribution rights for a large catalog of copyrighted materials (does not cover reproduction of entire works, the right to use or change a work, the right to use work for promotion, or the right to share beyond the campus community)
  • RightFind Academic - search tool to look up sources available under our CCC license