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Course Materials and Copyright for Professors: Home

This LibGuide will assist Professors in making determinations regarding how they can make accessible course materials as needed for students.

Placing Course Material Online

Copyright law is complicated.  This guide is intended to provide you with some guidance on how to refer library users to accurate information.  However, this guide is not intended to provide legal advice to Professors or library users.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact the University Copyright Librarian, Sara Benson, at

You may decide to link to course material from your class webpage.  You may decide to post materials in your online class forum (such as Compass).  Or, you may share copies of materials with your students in class.

However you decide to share materials, a consideration of copyright restrictions is necessary.

Copyright Questions?

Copyright law can be difficult and confusing. This webpage is meant to provide you with guidance, but not legal advice.

Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to ask Sara Benson, the Copyright Librarian, for assistance. Sara can be reached at 217-333-4200 or

Scholarly Communication and Publishing

Common Misperceptions

Here are a few common misperceptions (and corrections) about copyright law basic principles.

1. The internet is fair game.

False.  Copyright laws still apply.

2.  No © = no copyright.


3.  Use in teaching = fair use.

False.  Fair use requires a case-by-case and individualized determination of each source used.  

Some Copyright Ground Rules

  • A work created today (or, more specifically, after 1989) is protected under copyright as soon as it’s created and is (generally) protected for the lifetime of the creator, plus 70 years (could be even longer for some works).
  • There is no special symbol (such as the copyright symbol) necessary on the protected work since 1989--it is protected simply because someone created it and wrote it down or recorded it.
  • If more than one person created a work, they might be joint owners of a work (see "Copyright Ownership" on the right).
  • When copyright expires, the work becomes public domain.
  • Ideas can’t be copyrighted, only the tangible expression in a fixed medium of the idea can.  
  • Facts can't be copyrighted, either.
  • You may use any copyrighted material under the fair use doctrine, within fair use guidelines.
  • If something looks copyrighted, assume it is.

Who Does Copyright Protect?

  • Copyright protects an author's right to reproduce (copy), distribute (license), make derivatives of the work, publicly display and perform the work
  • This means that if you wish to make a copy of a copyrighted work (unless it is considered a "fair use") you must get permission from the owner of the work
  • You also generally cannot publicly display a copyrighted work (say a movie or work of art) unless you have permission to do so or a recognized "copyright exception" exists

Copyright Ownership

The Author is the Initial Owner

If you wrote an essay or article, you are the owner of that article unless and until you contract away your rights (such as in a publishing agreement). 

Ownership Can Be Assigned or Transferred

Giving away the bundle of rights that constitute copyright is often called a grant. If the transfer is exclusive it has to be in writing. In books/articles, this usually occurs in a publishing agreement.

Works Can Be Made Available Under Terms More Favorable Than Copyright Allows

The Creative Commons has developed a series of licenses that allows copyright holders to retain control over their works, but still make them available under terms more favorable than copyright allows.  Essentially, under the creative commons licenses, owners of copyright have allowed others to use their work with certain limitations specified in the creative commons license.

More information about the creative commons license is available on the creative commons website.

Joint Ownership of a Copyrighted Work

A work is considered joint if it meets these conditions:

  • both or all the authors intend that their contributions be merged into a single work;

  • this intention exists at the time of creation of the work.

No written contract is necessary to create a joint work. Each author owns an undivided portion of the entire work.  So, one author can grant another person permission to use the work without the agreement of the author author.  The only obligation is to share in any profits received. 


The content for this page originated with the School of Music's Copyright LibGuide.