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Using Content in Photocopies

Like many people, you probably do not think twice about photocopying articles, newsletters, or book chapters. However, by photocopying these works you may in fact be unintentionally violating copyright law. This section provides guidelines to help you comply with copyright law when you photocopy copyrighted material to share with faculty, students, and others.

Permission may be needed to photocopy articles and other content for uses such as:

  • alumni relations and student-recruitment handouts
  • computer printout copies
  • interlibrary loan
  • classroom handouts
  • orientation, training, and other staff communications
  • student course packs

Photocopies for Students and Faculty

As noted in Section 108: Reproduction by Libraries and Archives, qualifying libraries are permitted to make reproductions for library users (e.g., students and faculty), provided the following criteria are met:

  • The library or archive may make one reproduction of an article from a periodical or a small part of any other work.
  • The reproduction must become the property of the library user.
  • The library must have no reason to believe that the reproduction will be used for purposes other than private study, scholarship, and research.
  • The library must display the register’s notice at the place where library users make their reproduction requests to the library.

A provision in the Copyright Act absolves libraries from infringement liability for photocopying on their premises by patrons at unsupervised, self-service photocopiers. This provision requires that libraries display a specific notice stating, among other things, that photocopying may be subject to copyright law. This notice is often displayed on a wall behind the photocopier or on the copier itself.

Photocopying by Students

Photocopying by students is subject to a fair-use analysis, as well. However, unlike classroom instructors who usually distribute copies in large numbers, students typically act only on their own behalf. As a result, their fair-use analysis is likely to result in a different conclusion than that of a faculty member or instructor.

For students, a single photocopy of part of a copyrighted work, such as a copy of an article from a scientific journal made for research, would likely be considered fair use. Yet there are limits, even for students. For example, photocopying all of the assignments from a book recommended for purchase by the instructor, making multiple copies of articles or book chapters for distribution to classmates, or copying material from workbooks would most likely not be considered fair use under a reasonable application of the four fair-use factors.

Classroom Handouts

In general, classroom handouts fall into two categories – spontaneous and planned:

  • Spontaneous. These handouts are produced on the spur of the moment for one-time use. Consider, for example, an instructor who photocopies an article from the morning paper for use in that day’s class discussion. This type of handout is likely to be covered under fair use and would not require copyright permission for two reasons: (1) the unplanned nature of the use and (2) the work is so new that the instructor could not reasonably be expected to obtain permission in a timely manner.
  • Planned. This category includes handouts that are either used repeatedly or involve works that have existed long enough for one to obtain copyright permission in advance. For example, if the instructor in the above example were to copy and reuse the same article in future semesters—or if the instructor were to copy an article from a back issue of a newspaper or magazine—fair use would probably not apply.