Copyright and Licensing

Copyrighted work is an essential part of day-to-day life on campus. Research, scholarship, instructional materials, software, and—in some cases—datasets are all examples of copyrighted work the campus community regularly creates, uses, and builds upon.

The Fair Use provision

The Fair Use provision of the U.S. copyright law is a flexible user’s right that allows the use of copyrighted works without permission when certain factors apply. The provision is helpful for teaching in the classroom as well as for online instruction. To analyze whether a use is fair consider these four factors.

Important to keep in mind:

  • Limit access to students in your course (this applies to course material you have uploaded for students as well as to recordings of your classes that you may have made)
  • Upload only what is really necessary for your educational goals
  • Check for and rely on licenses when they are available
  • Take the material down at the end of course
  • Make students aware of copyright (“Do not share!”)
  • Properly attribute the uploaded resources
  • Be reasonable, but don’t agonize

While Fair Use offers a clear path for most uses, some materials may have to be restricted or cannot be used at all:

In-lecture use of audio or video

Playing copyrighted audio or video sourced from physical media during an in-person class session is legal under a provision of copyright law called the “Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption.” However, that exemption does not cover playing the same media online. If you can limit audio and video use for your course to relatively brief clips, you may be able to include those in lecture recordings or live-casts under the Fair Use provision of the copyright law. For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos.

Sharing copies

Copying materials — from downloading and uploading files to scanning physical documents — poses the same copyright issues for use with students in a physical classroom as for use in a distance learning environment. It is always better not to make copies of entire works. Copying portions of works to share with students will often be fair use. There is no “bright-line” rule on how much you can scan/copy for your class. The amount used should be reasonable in light of the purpose of the use.


Licensed ebook collections can be used in classes immediately via the library VPN. In some ebook collections, publishers and authors limit access to a small number of users or cut off access after a certain number of uses. If you plan on using an ebook as a required reading, let the Library know by emailing and they will confirm if a multi-user license can be obtained. If you need an ebook that the Library does not already have in its collection, submit your request via the Suggest a Purchase form.

Linking is always an easy option!

Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc., rarely leads to a copyright problem. (Having said that, it is best not to link to existing content that itself appears to be infringing on copyright.)

Linking to subscription content through the Library is also a great option. A lot of the library subscription content will have persistent redirect web addresses and “permalink” options, which should work even for off-campus users.

Also consider using open access material with Creative Common licenses. All this is covered under Fair Use.

Learn More

Detailed information about the Fair Use provision and the TEACH Act (which deals with copyright exceptions in online instructions) can be found on the University of California’s Copyright pages.

You can also contact the library’s Scholarly Communications Officer, Michael Ladisch (, 530-752-6385), with questions.

Related information

  • For information on UC Davis instructor copyright switch to our guidance page.
  • Visit the UC Davis’ Keep Teaching website for strategies and resources for instructional resilience
  • UC Davis Office of Research offers this list of copyright resources


UC Davis follows a long tradition of respecting faculty and student ownership of the copyrights to most original works. In some cases, where the University has commissioned the work or, for faculty, where the work is not the product of “independent academic effort,” the University will instead be the copyright owner.

Knowing what you own is the first step toward effective management of your copyrights.

Learn more about copyright ownership policies from the University of California Copyright website, and from the UC Davis Office of Research Copyrights at UC Davis page.

For a list of known UC delegated authorities who may grant copyright licenses (among other things) pertaining to UC-owned copyrights within their respective jurisdictions, go to this UC Copyright Permissions page.

For Davis campus, see Using UC Davis’ Copyrights.