Copyright and Distribution of Course Materials

This page is intended to guide faculty in understanding their options for the distribution of course content, including photocopied and electronic materials, in the context of copyright obligations.

General Copyright Considerations | Canvas | Printed Course Packs | Help Contacts

The Law School follows the applicable copyright laws of the United States including the right of faculty to make "fair use" of copyrighted materials for all educational purposes, including use in course packs and materials distributed electronically in Canvas (the course management system) and by email or other electronic distribution.

While fair use principles are poorly defined, especially in the educational context, most authorities agree that course content is subject to the same restrictions regardless of whether it is in print or electronic format. It is therefore the policy of the Law School that all course content distribution must conform to copyright principles.

General Copyright Considerations

  • The following items are not copyrighted, therefore distribution poses no concerns:
    • Items which were authored more than 95 years ago.
    • Items which are publications of the federal government (official statutes, reports of cases--not including editorial matters such as headnotes, agency reports, legislative materials).
    • Items in which the author explicitly disclaims copyright.
    • Note that the author does not necessarily own the copyright to her own works.
  • Fair use may allow you to distribute your course content without requiring permission.
    • In the educational context, a 1976 agreement set forth a general standard that representatives of the publishing and author community agreed was fair use for course distribution. Under the guidelines brief excerpts of copyrighted works may be distributed, provided the instructor's spontaneous teaching need precludes opportunity to seek permission; the use is not a substitute for the purchase of materials and the cumulative effect of use will not adversely affect the market for the author's work; and notice of copyright is provided. Single chapters of books or single articles generally meet the brevity requirement of these guidelines, provided they do not exceed 10% of the work as a whole.
    • U.S. Copyright Circular 21 on educational use of copyrighted materials
    • The four fair use factors are:
      1. The purpose or character of the use
      2. The nature of the copyrighted work being used
      3. The amount and substantiality of the work being used
      4. The effect of the use on the market for or value of the original
  • If you would like to distribute a document that is available in a library database, it is usually possible to link directly to the document under the terms of the library's license, thereby avoiding the need for separate copyright clearance or permission. 
  • You may always consider asking the rights holder for permission yourself.
  • Other Resources on Copyright and Fair Use in the Academic Context:

Canvas (Course Management System)

Canvas sites are automatically created for each class taught at the law school. Distribution of course content on Canvas protects copyright in that content is provided to a limited group of students for a limited time, and the content is protected by password. However, distribution of electronic copies of content is governed by the same copyright principles as distribution of print content, including fair use. Faculty should not assume that copyright principles allow free distribution of copyrighted material on Canvas (or by email).

  • Linking
    Wherever possible, faculty are encouraged to link to content in databases licensed by the Northwestern University libraries. In general, it is possible to link to individual articles in most scholarly journals, as well as cases and scholarly and newspaper articles in Lexis and Westlaw.
  • Uploading documents to Canvas directly
    If you determine that fair use allows you to distribute a copyrighted document through Canvas, protect the author's interest by providing a statement of copyright and clear attribution to the author. The following is an example of a basic copyright notice that may be used:
    U.S. copyright law (title 17 of U.S. code) governs the reproduction and redistribution of copyrighted material.
    We recommend adding this notice as the first page of your document.) You can also protect the author's interest by limiting access to the copyrighted document to the time period reasonably necessary for your pedagogical purposes to be served.

Printed Course Packs

Faculty wishing to have print materials duplicated by the University Copy Center for use in courses must adhere to the Course Pack Duplication Policy. Faculty assistants should be very familiar with the process.

  • All Law School course packs must be duplicated by the University Copy Center, FedEx Kinkos. Because of the difficulty sometimes encountered identifying and obtaining permission for the copyright holder, faculty should submit course packs to the Copy Center as soon as possible.
  • All requests to duplicate course packs must be submitted on the Course Pack/Copyright Request Form (pdf) and all materials to be duplicated, whether copyrighted or not, must be listed on the form. Please note: Title, Author, Publisher, Year, ISBN/ISSN numbers and Page Numbers are required. Incomplete or inaccurate information may delay processing.
  • The Copy Center will seek permission to use copyrighted materials. Once copyright permission is cleared the faculty member will be notified of the royalty fee before duplication begins. All royalty payments required by copyright holders are included in the cost of the duplicated course packs.
  • All copyrighted materials reproduced in course packs will include the appropriate copyright notices, citations and attributions to their sources.
  • Because of copyright requirements, the cost of course packs can be substantial. To avoid additional costs being passed on to students, faculty may choose not to include color copies or spiral bound finishing. All course packs are double-sided and three-hold punched.
  • FedEx Kinkos may also duplicate copyrighted material if you have permission from the rights holder. FedEx Kinkos recommends the following form. You will need to complete the upper portion of the form and send it to the contact person for that publication. When the contact person has completed the bottom portion of the form and faxed it back to you, take it to the Copy Center with the materials to be copied.

Help Contacts

Course Packs: Please contact your faculty assistant

Canvas in General: NU Canvas Support (847) 491-4044;