VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Copyright for Faculty

How Can I Avoid Infringement?

Although copyright law has many exceptions for educational purposes, there's a big difference between what you can do in the classroom and what you can do outside of the classroom. When you are in the classroom, you are free to perform or display any copyrighted works that you have legally obtained. Playing videos and music, displaying images in your presentations, reading texts aloud—all of these are examples of things you can do in the classroom without any restriction. However, outside of the classroom, you are more limited in what you can do. This is especially important to keep in mind if you plan to copy and republish copyrighted works on the open web.

Not everything you find on the Internet can be copied and reused without restriction. Even if you do not see a copyright notice, it is likely that the work is copyrighted. However, there are many resources you can use to narrow your searching to content in the public domain or content that is available under a Creative Commons license. 

If a work appears online with a statement that it is licensed under Creative Commons or in the public domain, you should still consider whether or not these claims are trustworthy. Doing a small amount of research on the work's origins or avoiding using works that are clearly copyrighted (for example, works from recognizable publishers or corporations) in nonpermissable ways will help you avoid infringing copyright.

Using Copyrighted Works

When you are using others' works, there is a series of questions you will need to ask:

  • Is the work copyrighted? If the work is in the public domain, you are free to use it without permission or payment.
  • Is the work being made available under any terms and conditions that limit its use? Works you find online or works in library databases may be subject to terms and conditions that can restrict how you use the work. Be sure to read any terms and conditions before using the work.
  • Is the work available under an open license? If so, see if your use falls under the license terms.
  • Is your use fair? If the work is not in the public domain or available under an open license, consider if your use falls under the fair use exception.

If your use is not fair, you will need to get permission from the copyright holder. If you cannot get permission or the permission comes at too high a cost, you will need to consider using a different work. To better understand the permissions process, see the following resources: