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Teaching Electronically

Home | Policy | Copyright vs. Fair Use | Library Resources | Use of Digital Media | FAQs

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In what ways can we distribute copyright
material digitally (e.g. by email, on e-reserve, or on the web?)
How do we distribute copyrighted material under fair use?
Copyright, Digital Materials, and Distance Education
Guidelines and duties of the institution
Clarification of fair use policy for distance education
Exceptions for distance learning

This is an electronic age. In what ways can we distribute copyright material digitally (e.g. by e-mail, on e-reserve, or on the web)?

The TEACH Act requires special care with electronic distribution of material. You must

  • Avoid distributing commercial works that are sold or licensed for education (such as textbooks, the CDs that come with textbooks, workbooks or exercise books, etc.). Students should purchase these for the course.
  • Avoid using pirated works or works you could reasonably expect to know were not legally made (such as “ripped” MP3s or home-burned videotapes or DVDs of movies, etc.). If the copy doesn’t bear a copyright statement or date, it’s probably best to avoid it altogether.
  • Check to make sure that personally purchased copies of material give you the right to use them in classes. If you buy a film or CD from an educational distributor, for instance, the packaging will often tell you that you can use the material in class. On the other hand, a DVD rented from a local video store or even purchased at a local vendor usually does not come with copyright permission to show the work, except in your own home for pleasure. (See “Using CDs, VHS Tapes, and DVDs” in the FAQs below.)
  • Generally limit the distribution of works to an amount and duration comparable to what you would use in a live classroom setting (e.g., if you would only teach two or three chapters, you can’t digitally transmit an author’s entire book; if your class is 50 minutes long, you can’t transmit a three-hour movie).
  • Supervise the distribution of the digital material by making it an integral part of a class session and making it part of a “systematic mediated instructional activity.” That is, you can’t just e-mail or post an essay on a Web site for background reading; you must actually use it in the class.
  • Limit access to the material to students actually enrolled in the course and make the material available only for a limited time (such as the duration of the course).
  • Notify students that the material may be subject to copyright protections and that they may not violate the legal rights of the copyright holder.

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How do we distribute copyrighted material under fair use?

    • Distribute the material in a controlled manner. If the library has a copy of the material in one of its databases (e.g. InfoTrac or JSTOR), give students the URL to the article instead of a physical copy and let them download the article in whatever form they prefer. By subscribing to the databases, the library has paid for the copyright to the version of the article that appears in the database, so that counts as fair use. Alternatively, if the material exists somewhere on the web, give students the URL and let them download the materials themselves for their own scholarly use.

      Remember that all materials on the Web are copyright protected unless otherwise noted; you may not download freely and ignore fair use. Also, please remember that using material you find on the web (instead of in a protected database) may not be fair use if that material has been posted in violation of copyright laws. Caveat emptor. Likewise, photocopying and distributing materials must also be conducted by these guidelines.
    • If you have time to anticipate the need to distribute material digitally, consider setting up your course in WebCT, which limits access to materials to students currently enrolled in the class. Winthrop has this system available and provides training for it, but the university requires that you register your course for WebCT at least a month before the semester begins. This will provide password protection for access to your materials and may help demonstrate your “good faith” effort to protect copyrighted materials. If you are interested in exploring this option, see  and contact the WebCT administrator at x-2551. If you take this option, remember that the rules for repeated use and fair use still apply. In particular, you cannot use your WebCT account as a substitute “coursepack” for students (see the FAQs below).
    • No matter how you use copyrighted material in your classroom, keep a record of what you have used. NC State has a sample record form available at . Print a copy of this form, use it throughout the semester, and keep it with your records so that you can document your “good faith” attempt to observe copyright laws in your teaching.
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Copyright, Digital Materials, and Distance Education

When copyrighted materials are used in distance education, special precautions apply. The following list is to help faculty comply with the Teach Act and Section 110(2) of the US Copyright Act. Please check the ‘fair use’ section of this document to acquire permissions for copyright material and follow Winthrop’s ‘on-site’ guidelines as well as these for ‘on-line’ learning.

  1. The work being distributed may be a performance of a non-dramatic literary or musical work. Any other performance may be used, including dramatic works and audiovisual works, but only in "reasonable and limited portions." A display may be used in an amount comparable to a live classroom session.
  1. Works in any format which is typically purchased by students for their own use can not be distributed primarily for performance or display as part of a digital instructional activity or text material; this covers, for instance, digital materials or workbooks that students normally purchase along with their textbooks.
  1. An exception to copyright applies only to performances or displays that are:
    • made by, directed by, or supervised by an instructor as a part of the distance education  “class session” offered as a regular part of the course held by a nonprofit educational institution.
    • directly related to and assist in the teaching content of the course..
  1. If Winthrop is in possession of material but does not know (or has reason to believe) that the copy of the work to be transmitted was not lawfully made or acquired, permission requests for copyright are required.
  1. If materials need to be converted from analog to digital format to be displayed on the internet, and there is no digital version available or digital versions have security measures that prevent copying, then only those portions needed for the course should be converted.
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Guidelines and duties of the institution

The University also has responsibilities to ensure that materials distributed digitally as part of distance education are used in accordance with existing copyright laws. Specifically,

  1. Online courses approved by the University for credit must be supported by Winthrop, which is a nonprofit educational institution.
  1. Winthrop must provide informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members that describe and promote US copyright laws.
  1. Winthrop must provide notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection. See below for sample language that might be included on a syllabus to meet this requirement.
  1. The transmission of the content must be sent solely to students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is intended.
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Clarification of fair use policy for distance education

The main concern for distance education is to protect or at least attempt to protect the work being distributed on behalf of the people who hold the copyright of the work. To do so, login and password protection for course materials, discussion groups, and other forms for distribution of information should be in place. Personal websites that carry copyrighted material used for instruction should also be protected. Where possible, online courses should also employ digital rights management (DRM) technologies and use streaming technologies that prevent retention on the receiving computer. You can find sample pages and computer scripts to make this possible at

  • All web-based courses set up by the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) or the Information Technology (IT) department at Winthrop will require username, login, and password to gain access to courses and their related materials. DRM technologies will also be used when possible but the professor must inform the TLC or IT of their use in advance in order for this technology to be deployed.
  • Fair use guidelines still apply to distance education materials for non-profit organizations as they do in traditional classrooms.
  • Amounts of display material should be comparable to what is typically displayed in the course of a traditional classroom session.
  • Materials must be obtained legally with the permission of the copyright holder or the instructor must show an attempt to gain permission.
  • Students must be instructed not to distribute the information that is copyright protected. Here is a sample statement that might be placed on a syllabus to show students that material is copyrighted:

“All copyrighted materials for this course shall remain in the possession of the instructor or Winthrop University for distribution to students enrolled in this course. You may not redistribute, sell, or gain personally from these materials under penalty of US copyright law. Copyright of the material is not transferable and may only be used by the student for educational and reference purposes. If you have further questions, please consult the Winthrop Copyright Policy at”

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Exceptions for distance learning

The exception to copyright applies only to performances or displays that

(1) are made by, directed by, or supervised by an instructor as a part of the distance education  “class session” offered as a regular part of the course held by a nonprofit educational institution or governmental body.

(2) are directly related to and assist in teaching the content of the course.

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