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Coursepacks QuickPolicy

This Copyright QuickPolicy was created by the SRU Copyright Policy Task Force.
It resides on this site for the benefit of the Slippery Rock University community.

Slippery Rock University supports the responsible publishing of course packs for the use of students in their course work. This QuickPolicy includes the main points you need to know about the Copyright Law of the United States as it relates to course packs for use in higher education settings.

Disclaimer: SRU assumes no responsibility for violation of laws pertaining to the publication, assembly, or use of course packs by faculty or students, and makes this good faith effort to inform you of your responsibilities in this regard. It is the policy of Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania to apply the Copyright Law of the United States in pursuit of the University's academic mission.

A course pack is a custom-published compendium of readings and other print course materials for use by students enrolled in a class. Electronic course packs, or “e-packs” are the digital equivalent, frequently issued on a CD. At SRU course packs are produced by Printing Services and sold by the Bookstore to students enrolled in a particular class.

The big challenge for the professor assembling a course pack is the danger of committing copyright violations when requesting multiple copies of content for use by students. Printing Services will not go forward printing a course pack until the professor demonstrates one or more of the following:

  • that the content is exempt because it is not subject to copyright;
  • the content has entered the public domain;
  • permission to use the content in a course pack has been secured from the copyright holder;
  • the copying is sufficiently limited in extent by adhering to a so-called “bright line” policy as to pass legal scrutiny; or,
  •  a Fair Use exemption can be justified (normally incompatible with sale of the course pack).

See part 3 below for explanations.

Most important: in no case will Printing Services produce a course pack intended for sale to students unless all the materials included in it are exempt, or explicit permission has been granted to sell the reproduced material in a course pack.

Part 1 - What is Copyright?

Visual artists including painters, photographers and graphics designers; filmmakers, musicians, composers, and writers rely on the sale of their creative work to earn a living. There is a system in place to make sure authors get paid and get credit when their intellectual property is used or copied by someone else. Look for the copyright symbol © at the beginning or end of a printed work, or on the title screen of a media production for information about the copyright owner.

Copyright law exists to provide legal protection for the creator and the work.

Examples of copyrightable works include: photographic images, paintings, drawings and sketches; web art, designs for buildings, furniture, interiors, and landscapes; motion pictures, television programs and web videos; recordings of music performances and scores, the spoken word, and any form of text, whether handwritten, printed, or saved as a digital copy.

Something doesn’t have to be published to have copyright protection. When any form of intellectual property is distributed without the permission of the copyright owner, depriving the owner of the opportunity to profit from the reproduction of the work, the law is being broken.

Some forms of expression are not covered by copyright law and are considered to be in the “Public Domain”. These include works that are either ineligible for copyright protection, or with expired copyrights. All works published before 1923,  works of the United States Government, or the underlying idea that is expressed or manifested in the creation of a work are considered to be in the public domain, and thus free of copyright restrictions.

For more copyright basics, see the U.S. Copyright brochure.

Part 2 - The Consequences of Violating the Law

Just because it is possible to include complete journal articles, pictures, tables and graphs in your course pack does not mean that it is legal to do so. While technology and the internet make it easily possible to copy and disseminate intellectual property in a wide range of formats, violations also are easier to detect and to prove. If you are found to have possible copyright violations in your course materials both you and the University could be drawn into lengthy, time-consuming, and costly legal proceedings.  Sections 501 to 515 of the Copyright Law of the United States, under “Chapter 5: Copyright Infringement and Remedies” of the copyright law explain in detail.

Part 3 - When should I consider producing a course pack?  Here are some basic guidelines:

  • A course pack is the best way to distribute extended readings, which you have permission from the copyright owner to copy for that purpose.
  • Traditional library course reserve is the best way to make available an entire book or other lengthy reading, when the class is small, and the reading is optional or supplemental.
  • Electronic reserve is best for individual articles not available through licensed journal databases.
  • Posting to D2L is best when you can provide a direct link to a licensed article or streamed media. 

Part 4 - What is the responsible way to make sure you are following the law when you are planning to publish a course pack for use by your students?

  • Some content is not copyrightable and thus not subject to copyright. Examples are listed at the following link:
  • Some content is in the public domain because the original copyright has expired. An excellent resource (created by Peter Hirtle) for determining copyright term and the public domain is at this link:
  • It is always possible to ask permission to copy when you can identify the publisher, disseminator, or owner of intellectual property you wish to use in class.  As a general rule, if the material you intend to copy for a course pack is copyrighted, and the course pack will be sold to students, you must obtain explicit permission to copy the material beforehand. The following website by the Columbia University Libraries/ Information Services offers clear guidance on seeking permission to use copyrighted material:
  • The Bright Line: Although the Copyright Law of the United States does not specify how much of a particular work may be included in a classroom presentation, posted in a D2L shell, or published in a course pack, there are guidelines or rules of thumb that always fall within the range of acceptable educational use of copyrighted material. Such guidelines, or Bright Lines are available at this link.
  • The Copyright Law provides for a “Fair Use Exemption” from the law, depending on four factors relating to the proposed use. The four factors are: the purpose of the proposed use of the copyrighted material; the nature of the work in question; the amount of the work being used; and. the effect of the use on the market or potential market for the copyrighted work. Generally speaking, a Fair Use exemption that would apply for classroom use or traditional course reserve will not be sufficient to allow sale in a coursepack. See the following link to the American Library Association website on Fair Use:  

Part 5 - What are examples of situations that faculty ask about when they are putting together course packs?

  • How do I decide between creating a course pack, placing physical materials on reserve in the library, putting materials on e-reserves, or uploading to my D2L shell?
  • I have determined that a small portion of a copyrighted work may be copied under the Fair Use exemption for use in class as a handout, or for traditional library reserve. May I include the same small portion of the work in my course pack?
  • My plan is to create a course pack that includes reproductions of musical scores of marches arranged for brass. The marches were published originally between 1886 and 1922 and are in the public domain. May I include these scores in a course pack?
  • I would like the class to read one chapter of an out-of-print textbook. May I reproduce this single chapter in a course pack?
  • I wrote a book, and my colleague would like to include a portion of my book in a course pack. May I allow my colleague to reproduce a portion of my original manuscript in a course pack?

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Heather Getsay
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