Copyright is a tricky topic, even for experts. In most cases, there are no obvious right or wrong choices when dealing with copyright issues – copyright law is full of gray areas.
Key points regarding copyright law in the United States:
  • Only the author(s) of a work (journal article, book, image, video, etc.) has the right to copy, distribute, or display that work
  • Others may get permission from the copyright holder to copy, distribute, or display the work (this usually requires paying a fee)
  • Works are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are created; they do not need to be registered or have a (c) symbol to be protected under copyright law
  • Under the Fair Use doctrine, small portions of a work may be copied or distributed for non-commercial or personal educational use without getting permission from the copyright holder
  • The Fair Use doctrine is a balancing test, so an individual must be able to justify how and why something should be considered "fair use" (see the Thinking Through Fair Use tool below for help on this)
Resources for determining fair use:
Fair Use Tool from University of Minnesota Libraries: Thinking Through Fair Use
United States Copyright Office: Fair Use
Stanford University Libraries: Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors
Copyright Clearance Center: Copyright Basics: Fair Use
Columbia University Libraries/Information Services Copyright Advisory Office: Fair Use
Students in the pursuit of scholarship have an easier time justifying that an activity falls under the Fair Use doctrine because they are engaged in an educational activity. Still, the amount of material copied/scanned/distributed/posted and the number of copies made can make a big difference.
For example, one of the following activities probably falls under fair use and two probably do not:
  • A student photocopies a portion of the text from a book in the library for their personal study and reference. þ
  • A student scans an entire textbook from the library to use throughout the term in their course. ý
  • A student uploads a personal copy of an eBook to a file sharing service for their classmates to access. ý
In the second and third scenarios, the student is reproducing the entire work (as opposed to a portion of the work) and this causes the rightful copyright holders to lose money because the student or their classmates now will not purchase their own copies of the textbook. Most courts of law would not consider this "fair".
How much is too much to reproduce from a single source?
There is no definitive answer to this. A generally practiced rule of thumb is no more than ten percent from a single work. Copying less than ten percent of a work for a student's own personal use is probably fair use, unless the copied text is the "heart of the work".
Here's another example. One of these activities probably falls under fair use and one probably does not:
  • A student gets a full text journal article through the library or through interlibrary loan and emails it to their entire class. ý
  • A student gets a full text journal article through the library or through interlibrary loan and makes a photocopy to give to their partner in a group project for a class. þ
In the first scenario, the student distributes the article electronically to a large number of people. The student has taken one copy and reproduced it at least fifty times (i.e. made fifty copies, one for each person who received the email). This is probably not fair use. Additionally, digital copies are often judged more severely than paper copies because they are so much easier to share quickly and in large numbers.
*Understand that you as students are personally liable for any copyright infringment in which you engage. It is your responsibility to understand how your actions fit into copyright law. The library staff and your instructors can recommend resources for doing so (such as those listed in the section above), but we cannot make fair use judgements for you.*
Students found engaging in inappropriate use of copyrighted materials will be referred to the Professional Misconduct Committee for disciplinary action.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences maintains an Annual Copyright License from the Copyright Clearance Center that applies to all its employees and campuses. With this license, the University pays one yearly fee for blanket copyright permissions for thousands of publications. As long as a publication (e.g. a book or journal) is covered under the Annual Copyright License, faculty and staff can reproduce material from that publication for class handouts, posting in courses on Blackboard, emailing to students or other faculty, and more.
This video shows you how to check whether copyrighted works are covered under this license for use in your courses.

Are You Being Copyright Compliant? - check this flow chart before you share, post, email, or copy material.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell if a book chapter or journal article is covered under the Annual Copyright License?
The USA Library provides a handout for faculty and staff members with instructions for checking our copyright permissions. It is each faculty/staff member's responsibility to check for copyright permission before sharing/copying/posting material. Essentially, you must first create a RightFind Academic account with your USA email address. If you are on campus, the site may recognize automatically that you are affiliated with USA. In that case, you do not need to create an account. Then, you can search for publications to see their status under the Annual Copyright License.
What if the publication I want to use is not covered under the Annual Copyright License?
Though most content will be covered, occasionally you may find that a book chapter or journal article you want to use is not covered. In these cases, you may have several options for sharing that content with your students and/or colleagues:
  • Share the link: if the article is open access (i.e. available free online), you can share the url to access the full text on the publisher's site instead of posting a full text PDF of the article. Students will still have easy access to the full text, but you have not copied any content and so have not infringed on copyright law.
  • Check the online library: often, even if a journal is not open access, sharing a link may be an option. If the article is available through the USA library (as listed in the Journal Finder), ask the library for a special link to that article. When students click the link, they will be prompted to log in with their email address and email account password and then will be able to view the full text article online. Again, you have not reproduced any copyrighted content, but students still have easy access to the material.
  • Library print reserves: For campus-based courses, we can make articles and book chapters available "on reserve" in the library. Simply email the library staff at your campus to let them know what material you'd like to put on reserve. Include a copy of the material if you have one. Then, instruct your students that the material is available on reserve in the library and they can go to the library to photocopy or scan the material. Because of special allowances for library print reserves in the U.S. copyright law, this is a legal practice that does not infringe on copyright. Please use library print reserves only as a last resort if the material is not covered under the Annual Copyright License, is not open access online, or is not available from the library's online resources. In all other cases, it is best to post the articles in Blackboard for your students.
  • Purchasing permission: If none of the previously mentioned options are available to you, contact the program director for the course in which you want to use the content. He or she can approve the expense of purchasing copyright permissions for the content.
Why are some publications not covered under the Annual Copyright License?
The Annual Copyright License is a product through the Copyright Clearance Center, a third party company that acts as a go-between for institutions (like universities) and publishers to make copyright compliance easier. The Copyright Clearance Center attempts to work with as many publishers as possible, but it is, of course, at the publisher's discretion. Typically, if a publication is not covered under the Annual Copyright License, it is because the publisher does not work with Copyright Clearance Center, or does not want to grant permission in that way. The Copyright Clearance Center constantly adds publishers, so publications that are not covered now may be covered in the future.
Does the Annual Copyright License cover images and videos, too?
No. The Annual Copyright License is exclusive to text-based materials. If you would like to post an image in Blackboard for a course or put it in a course packet, you must get permission from the copyright holder. Images found through a Google image search (or something similar) are still copyright protected and cannot legally be copied/saved without permission.
Some images found online might be public domain or use a Creative Commons license, but unless you see a statement to that fact, you should assume the image is copyrighted. An easy way to find public domain/Creative Commons images is through a Google Advanced Image search. Enter your search terms and then select "free to use or share, even commercially" under usage rights. Keep in mind that Creative Commons licensed material is not the same as public domain and you must adhere to the conditions set forth in the Creative Commons license for that material. Other sources of public domain/Creative Commons images are the NIH Image Bank and Wikimedia Commons.
USA faculty and staff have permission to reuse images from eBooks in the library's R2 Digital Library collection as a part of our purchase agreement for those titles. Feel free to use those images, but make sure you cite the images appropriately.
Copyright law relating to videos limits our ability to show a video in public (outside of a private home). Showing a video in a classroom setting (particularly a classroom in a for-profit university) requires permission from the copyright holder in most cases. Most of the videos we use here at USA are produced and created by USA employees, which means that the University is the copyright holder. Showing USA produced videos in class is not a problem, but be sure to get permission if you wish to show any other video in class.
For additional permissions for images and videos, contact your program director.
What if the image is from a journal article or book chapter?
Our annual copyright license covers text only, but if you use an image in the context of the text around it on the page in the article or chapter, you do not need to request additional permissions, as long as the journal article/book is covered under our annual copyright license. If you use the image only (not within its textual context), then you must get permission to use the image.
I always cite the source of an image, text, etc. in my presentations and handouts, so I don't need to do anything else, right?
Wrong. Citing your source is necessary to avoid plagiarism, but plagiarism and copyright are two separate issues. You can violate copyright without plagiarizing and vice-versa. Citing the source of an image (or other copyrighted material) is not enough. You must have permission from the copyright holder to copy or distribute (including in a presentation) copyrighted material.
Can I use an article I got free online without checking for or requesting copyright permission?
No. Journals that are open access provide the full text of their articles free online. But just because the publishers share the full text for free, it doesn't mean they're giving permission for everyone to share the full text for free. Some open access publishers say specifically on their website that they do give general permission for others to share and copy their articles, but most do not. If the journal is covered under our Annual Copyright License, you can post the full text. If it is not, the best thing to do is share the link to the article instead of the full text article itself.

What's the difference between open access and public domain?
The difference between open access and public domain has to do with copyright ownership. Public domain means that nobody owns the copyright, so members of the public are free to copy and share the content without asking permission. Material freely available online, including open access journal articles, images, website content, etc., is not necessarily public domain. Copyright holders do not cede their copyright ownership when they post their materials online. By law, the copyright holder has the right to share (or distribute) a work for free online if they want to. Users who visit the site and do not own the copyright do not have the right to make copies of the material available by printing multiple copies, emailing a copy to multiple people, or posting the content on another site where multiple people can access it. The bottom line is that just because a work is available for free online does not mean we are free to do with it whatever we wish. If we do wish to share an open access material with multiple people, the best thing to do is to share the link to that material.
Do I need to check for copyright permission to use an article or book chapter I authored?
No, as long as you're sure you are the copyright holder. If you gave full copyright ownership to the publisher at the time of publication (as opposed to partial rights or one time rights), you do not own the copyright and may have to request permission or even pay royalties to use the material. Be proactive in protecting your copyright ownership when you publish material and make sure you understand a legal agreement with a publisher before you sign it.
Is it okay for me to do this...?
We often get questions from faculty asking if it is okay for them to do specific things with copyrighted material. We cannot answer each of these questions individually. Please use the information provided on this page and in the University of St. Augustine Copyright Policy to guide you in making a judgement. In matters of fair use, the person using the copyrighted materials must have a justification with which he/she is comfortable. Faculty and staff members can also contact Deborah L. Zimic, General Counsel for the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (, to ask specific questions about fair use or copyright matters.