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Copyright for Faculty: Overview

This guide is maintained by NOVA librarians to assist faculty in maintaining a copyright compliant classroom, both online and in-person. If you have questions or comments, please contact Julie Combs at


This guide provides legal information but does not constitute legal advice.

NOVA's Copyright Policy

Administrative Services Procedures Manual Section 29: Copyright and Intellectual Property

29.0 Purpose

Each member of the faculty and staff of Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) is responsible for complying with copyright law and for initiating his or her own intellectual property agreements with the College. NVCC believes faculty and staff can best serve the College and protect their own interests by acquiring a basic knowledge of current United States Copyright Law, Virginia Intellectual Property Law as it pertians to state-supported colleges, and Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and NVCC policy.

Section 29 is divided into two parts. Subsection 29.1 provides general guidance on using copyrighted materials legally and describeds penalites for copyright infringement. Subsection 29.2 explains College policies and procedures for defining ownership of intellectual property created by College facutly and staff. The attachment section contains forms, sample permission letters, and a copy of the VCCS Intellectual Property Policy.

What is Copyright?

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a set of protections afforded to the author of an original work.  In the United States, copyright arises from Article I, §8 of the United States Constitution, which allows Congress "[t]o 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."  The specific laws governing copyright are found primarily in 17 U.S.C. §101ff., as well as court rulings that interpret this legislation.

More on Copyright

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has created a brochure to aid faculty in making copyright decisions. 

Know Your Copy Rights brochure
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Generic License.

While using a copyrighted work without permission for educational purposes is often acceptable, educational use is no guarantee.  If you want to use the work of other authors in your teaching, whether it be in a physical classroom or in an online teaching environment, you may need permission from the copyright holder.  

To determine whether this is necessary, you should first determine whether the work is protected by copyright law.  If it is not, you may use it without permission.  If it is protected by copyright law, you may still be able to use the work without permission if you can make a fair use argument.  If the work is protected by copyright law and you cannot make a fair use argument, then you will need to seek permission.

You should consider copyright law whenever you are using someone else's work in your teaching, whether it be for a course reading, lecture content, or supplementary materials in the course management system.  Remember that in a digital age, using a work ("copying") can include, but is not limited to: photocopying; scanning (to print, to file, or to email); printing out; making a PDF; copying, downloading, or uploading a digital file; and converting analog format to digital format. The TEACH Act, 17 U.S.C. §110(2), outlines the requirements for online and distance teaching environments.

Linking to online content does not constitute making a copy, so you should favor links wherever possible.

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