Statement on Content Provision

The Washington University Department of English is committed to the highest scholarly standards for the use of creative and intellectual works in teaching and research. Because course content provision is one of the primary ways in which students learn how to use others' published ideas responsibly, reproduction of copyrighted works for classroom use presents faculty and instructors with a unique opportunity to model the best scholarly and academic practices through the distribution of required reading. While fair use laws governing the reproduction and provision of copyrighted material are complex, uses of copyrighted material that may violate the fair use statute are almost always also questionable scholarly practices that would undermine basic notions of academic integrity. Duplication and distribution of copyrighted material, then, should (in addition to complying with the law) withstand the kind of close academic scrutiny we teach to our students.

When determining what constitutes authorized duplication of copyrighted content for use in the classroom, all faculty and instructors should consult the university's statement of guidance regarding the reproduction of copyrighted material. As the guidelines make clear, the fair use statute allows faculty and instructors to make, or have made, multiple copies for one-time distribution to a class, so long as faculty and instructors make no more than one copy for each student, include the copyright notice, charge no more than the cost of copying, copy only brief works or excerpts of longer works ("brevity," in the statute's language), and act on their own inspiration ("spontaneity"). The brevity provision, among other things, prohibits the reproduction of substantial portions of books (including rare, out-of-print, or costly works) for classroom use without permission; the spontaneity provision makes sustained and substantial reproduction (for instance, a semester-long duplication of hundreds of pages or duplication of the same material for consecutive semesters) of copyrighted material suspect.

Printed and bound course packets, therefore, raise issues that faculty and instructors should be aware or reminded of: in all but a few instances (i.e. large courses like Writing 1), legal responsibility for reproducing copyrighted materials (including legal liability for any copyright violation) usually devolves to the faculty member or instructor assembling the course packet in the form of a clearance waiver that faculty and instructors must sign before the packet is printed and sold. This waiver does not secure permission to publish copyrighted material; rather, it gives a third party clearance to profit from the publication and sale of copyrighted material by transferring legal responsibility for any potential copyright infringement to the designated faculty member or instructor. And since by law the "fair use" of multiple copies should not have a significant effect on the potential market for the work copied, as the General Counsel notes in the university guidelines, course packets that replace, rather than supplement, original copyrighted texts will generally not meet the fair-use test. That is, reproduced copyrighted material should not comprise more than a secondary or supplementary portion of the total required reading in a given semester.

There are various online content provision systems (most notably ARES, but also less formal methods such as emailed attachments or personal course websites) that use profit-free distribution mechanisms; the more sophisticated systems provide secure access to reproduced copyrighted material to only those students registered in the relevant course - features that may make these digital alternatives preferable to bound course packets. When choosing an online content provision system, however, faculty and instructors should not mistake ease or low cost of use for decreased liability. Since works published on the internet do not lose their copyrights and are subject to the same copyright protection as those published elsewhere, any copyrighted content posted online should meet the same fair-use standards that would otherwise obtain.

Permission to reproduce copyrighted materials can be obtained directly from the copyright owner. In seeking permission, you should write to the person with authority to grant it, typically the publisher or author identified in the copyright notice. A request letter should identify you (including your Washington University affiliation), the details of the specific item you wish to reproduce, the nature of the proposed reproduction, and your purposes. The General Counsel's guidelines address obtaining permission more fully.