Copyright Information

Basic copyright information

Fair Use and Electronic Reserves

Fair Use enables a course to use portions of copyrighted material and post online for a limited time as Electronic Reserves without first needing permission from the publisher and/or rights-holder.

But in order to claim Fair Use, the course can only use new or never been used before readings. Any item that was used in a past course and is to be reused in the same course will be subject to copyright permission. Fair Use is a temporary status that lasts only as long as the course itself, which is usually for one semester. Once the course’s final exams are over, so is Fair Use.

In addition, only a portion of the entire publication (normally no more than 10%) can be considered Fair Use, and even then must follow other guidelines. See UNC-Chapel Hill Information Technology Acceptable Use Policy for more information.

Take, for instance, the fictitious course ‘Nurs 001’ which wants to use a new set of readings that were not part of its past Electronic Reserves. So, all of the readings submitted for this course for the upcoming semester would be considered “Fair Use.” However, when the same course is offered again next year and any or all of the same readings are to be reused, “Fair Use” will have expired and are thus susceptible to copyright permission.

Even if a new instructor takes over an old class and decides to keep the same syllabus to reuse as Electronic Reserves, “Fair Use” would not apply since all items are course-specific, not instructor-specific. Should the new instructor want to add new readings, however, then those would be considered “Fair Use.”

Remember: “Fair Use” and copyright permission are contingent upon when course readings were last used as Electronic Reserves.

Copyright permission

When is copyright permission needed?

A good rule of thumb is if the reading in question has been used before for the exact same course, then copyright approval may be needed.

Exceptions occur when any of the following conditions are met, thereby eliminating the need to request copyright permission:

  • The material is available via the University’s subscribed online holdings
  • The material is available in the Public Domain, which can include local/state/federal governmental publications

Who will request/obtain such permission?

The Reserves Staff at the Health Sciences Library will contact the appropriate rights-holders for any necessary permission. Should any fees be assessed, the library will pay any reasonable cost(s). It should be noted, however, that if warranted the library has the right to pass along any cost(s) back to the respective department(s).

What happens if any have been denied/granted permission?

  • Permission Denied: Should the publisher or rights-holder deny permission to use its material, the Health Sciences Library’s Reserves Staff must adhere to copyright obligations and remove the link(s) that same day. To be fair, we will attempt to notify the instructor, teaching assistant, or other contact with at least a few hours notice.
  • Permission Pending: Likewise, we’ll contact faculty and staff when publishers/rights-holders need clarification before considering permission, especially when we cannot determine the answers ourselves. For instance, there are times in which some details, like class size, are left off the submission form and oftentimes we’re asked to supply the number of students enrolled in the course.
  • Permission Granted: Should the publisher or rights-holder grant permission to use its material, we will not send out any notification. The links will remain active until taken down at the end of the semester.
  • Permission not yet Received: The same holds true when we do not receive any response at all from the publishers/rights-holders. The links will remain active until the end of the semester, in which all course Electronic Reserves for that particular semester are completely removed from the web.

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Copyright FAQs

The following reserve FAQs were originally developed by the Reserves staff at the House Undergraduate Library:

Faculty and staff on the Academic Affairs side of campus with reserve questions should contact Undergraduate Library Reserves.

These FAQs have been amended slightly to reflect issues especially relevant to the Health Sciences Library Reserves. Health Affairs faculty and staff with questions regarding reserves should contact Health Sciences Library Reserves.

I put my course readings on electronic reserves last semester with no problems. I am using the same materials again this semester, but this time I am getting a lot of “permission denied” letters from the Library. Why is this?

The Library’s copyright policy states that the Library can only claim “fair use” for educational purposes for one semester. If a course reading is used again by the same instructor for the same course, the Library must then contact the rightsholder and ask for permission to use the item in an electronic reserve system. Therefore, what may have been okay one semester, may be denied the next.

However, the Library is committed to making as many readings available electronically as possible. While we are currently working on other avenues for securing permission, we can work with an instructor to identify other readings or other means of making an item available. Contact the Reserve Librarian for a consultation if you are concerned about the number of permission denied responses you are receiving.

Why aren’t all educational course readings considered “fair use” under copyright law?

Educational use is only one of the four factors that is considered under “fair use” principles. Other factors include a) nature of the copyrighted work (fiction vs. fact), b) the amount reproduced and c) the effect on market value. One has to consider all four factors when determining whether any use, even educational ones, are “fair use.”

I see that the Library’s electronic reserve policy is under review. What can I expect for this policy for next spring, next fall or further in the future?

The Library is committed to making as many of your course reserve readings available electronically as possible. The policy is designed to make more readings available, not less. Word documents, PowerPoint Slides, etc., are acceptable and most can be converted to a .pdf format, if you so choose.

If the Library is securing copyright for us, why aren’t we allowed to use whatever materials we want?

This is a simple question with a complicated answer. The Library is committed to providing course readings in a manner that respects fair use rights, the rights of copyright holders, and copyright law. This means that we cannot leave course readings online indefinitely without seeking permission from the proper rightsholder (see the first question in this FAQ above). This means that a publisher may sometimes say no, or they may charge a fee for use. The Library absorbs all copyright fees for placing materials on reserve. Sometimes publishers charge more than the Library can absorb and we must then pass along a “permission denied” response to the instructor.

One exception to requesting copyright permission is whether or not the University has paid access to an electronic subscription of a journal. We have quite a number of titles to which we electronically subscribe, and these do not require copyright permission. However, we do not have e-journals of all of the titles in our print collection. When a journal is available electronically and the article falls within the range of available dates within our subscription, we will link to that article.

What happens to my course reading when a publisher says “no”?

When a publisher says “no” to a particular request for e-reserves use, we will send you a notification via campus mail that alerts you to this fact. We will then remove the material from the e-reserves web site. The instructor has the option to pursue permission on their own, if they so choose. If the instructor can produce a written statement from the rightsholder that they have permission to use the article, we will keep it on file and make the reading available again.

Are some kinds of publications more likely to get permission than others?

There is no stock answer to this question, but the Reserve Librarian is available for consultation to go over your reserve list with you to identify problem areas and offer possible solutions.

Do you accept requests throughout the semester?

Yes, up until the last day of class–however no submissions will be accepted during final exams.

Regular submission guideline dates are:

  • Fall semester: July 1
  • Spring semester: November 1
  • Summer sessions: April 1

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Links to more copyright information

UNC-specific sites

Other academic sites

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Last modified: 04/13/21