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Expanded Copyright (self-paced course)

Self-paced course for faculty and staff to learn the aspects of copyright law that affect higher education. It's intense - if you want something lighter, please go to the Intro to Copyright videos on Learnscape.

Exemptions to copyright

Copyright protects the rightsholder's exclusive right to make or distribute copies or distributive works unless they grant a license (and usually collect royalties.) If that were the end of the story, this would be a very short tutorial, and it would be incredibly hard to practice scholarship, report the news, or even communicate about the specifics of other people's work.

Instead, there are multiple areas where copyright law makes allowances for free use of copyrighted material in socially beneficial ways. 

The U.S. Constitution has a very brief passage about copyright, and it says that the purpose of copyright law in this country is "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." This is interpreted as holding the rightsholder's needs (profit, incentive to create) in balance with the needs of the users of their works. 

The specific exemptions

The exemptions to copyright will be discussed in detail in later modules of this tutorial. Here they are in outline. 

  • Public Domain - Copyright of a work expires and then there are no restrictions
  • Educational Use and the TEACH Act - very specific allowance for certain kinds of free performance and display as part of a formal curriculum of a non-profit educational instituation
  • Fair Use - very flexible allowance for socially beneficial uses that do not cut into the rightsholder's profits too much


For everything that's not permitted under one of the exemptions, it may be possible to get a license. Those will be dealt with in detail in the Licenses module.

Licenses typically specify what parts of a work can be used, how they can be used, in what medium, and for what audience. Most licenses cost money.

There are also Creative Commons licenses, which do not require contacting the rightsholder or paying for it.