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Copyright Guide: Copyright in the Classroom

Copyright in the Classroom

The following information summarizes the U.S. Copyright Office’s Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians:

Single Copies of Print Materials are generally considered "Fair Use" under the following conditions:

  • A single chapter from a book (5% of work for in print; 10% of work for out of print).
  • A single article from a journal issue or newspaper.
  • A short story, essay, or poem from an individual work.
  • A chart, diagram, graph, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, journal, magazine, or newspaper.

Multiple Copies of Print Materials for Classroom Use:

Permissible When:

  • Copying meets the following tests of brevity:
    a. Poetry: A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or, from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
    b. Prose: Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.
    c. Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue. 
  • Copying meets the following tests of spontaneity:
    a. Copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and
    b. The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.
  • Copying meets the cumulative effect test as defined below: 
    a. The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
    b. Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay, or two excerpts may be copied from works by the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
    c. There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.
    d. The limitations stated in "b" and "c" above shall not apply to current news periodicals and newspapers and current news sections of other periodicals. 
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright. 



The difference between “fair use” and a copyright “infringement” is not always easy to determine. Claiming fair use requires a circumstance-specific analysis of the intended use of a work, based on the four factors. Here are three examples that illustrate this challenge:

Weight of Evidence Favors Fair Use

Gray Area – Opinions May Vary

Weight of Evidence Opposes Fair Use


Scanning three pages of a 120 page book and posting it to LMS for one semester.


Scanning seven pages of a 120 page book and posting it to LMS for one semester.

Scanning an entire book and posting it to LMS.

Why? If the scanned pages are not the “core” of the work, then the evidence favors fair use.

Why? The amount exceeds established standards for acceptable amounts by one page (i.e. greater than 5%). Opinions will vary.


Why? Scanning an entire book clearly weighs against all four factors found in


When Distributing Copies:

  • Copies made should not substitute for the purchase of books, journals, etc.
  • Always provide a copyright notice on the first page of the copied material. The American Library Association recommends using, "Notice: This material is subject to the copyright law of the United States."
  • Provide only one copy per student which becomes the student’s property.
  • Copying the works for subsequent semesters requires copyright permission.

 The Following Actions Are Prohibited:

  • Copying may not be used to create, replace, or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works.
  • There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be "consumable," i.e. workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, test booklets, answer sheets, etc.
  • Copying shall not:
    a. Substitute for the purchase of books, publisher's reprints or periodicals.
    b. Be directed by higher authority.
    c. Be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.
  • No charge may be made to the student beyond the actual cost of photocopying.