“Fair Use” and Access to Educational Resources for Online Teaching

Only one month ago we made a series of blog posts about Fair Use Week, where we celebrated the importance of this doctrine in US Copyright Law, and how it benefits libraries and faculty that wish to use copyrighted materials for educational purposes.

Little did we know then how much an important part of our academic lives this doctrine would play, as universities across the country now work to transition to online learning as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Luckily, copyright and scholarly communication librarians are available to help! A collection of librarians have written and signed a public statement that is designed to provide “clarity” for faculty about how copyright law applies to our current unique situation. This document, titled  “Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching and Research,” begins by acknowledging the flexibility of “fair use,” and how the law is well designed to help educators temporarily overcome the hurdles that they are facing. 

It encourages educators to think through fair use issues as they transition to online learning, but not to agonize over their choices. The sudden nature of this shift, combined with the clear public benefit in allowing individuals to continue their education uninterrupted, means that courts are likely to view arguments of fair use favorably. The document encourages faculty to make use of the four factors in their analysis, to use technology to limit access to copyright materials, to use only the amount of a resource that they need to use to meet their teaching goals and to always use legally obtained resources. As long as faculty do these things, and are thoughtful in how they justify their decisions, the law is highly likely to support the temporary use of copyrighted items. 

Finally, it is interesting to note that many publishers, such as JSTOR, Gale, Sage, Cambridge University, among others, are also providing access to their resources during this crisis. However, this temporary access also reminds us of the inequalities that students and citizens all over the globe typically face when it comes to gaining access to academic and scholarly materials. The way that this current crisis helps to highlight this inequity for us all, will be the focus of a future blog post.

Visit our copyright guide for more information.