Can I use this text in my course pack?

When I was teaching English and history courses during my grad school days, I always had this nagging question as I prepared my syllabi and reading lists:  Can I use this text in my course pack without needing to ask permission or worry about copyright infringement?  If you have similar questions as you prepare your own syllabi or as you consider using particular materials in your published research, I just came across this handy tool for figuring out whether something is copyrighted or in the public domain.  It’s the Digital Copyright Slider, put out by the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy.  Seems to me it would also be a useful tool for teaching students about copyright.

Of course, if you play with the slider, you will notice that the answer to the question “Is this work protected by copyright?” is either “No” or “Maybe.”  More information about the “Maybe” response is available if you click on the word “Maybe.”  For a lot of our educational purposes, Fair Use doctrine allows us to reproduce copyrighted works without seeking permission.  However, Fair Use is only really a set of guidelines for a risk assessment, not clear-cut legal protection for educators, and there have been recent efforts on the parts of some publishers to challenge educators’ rights to put copyrighted material in course packs.  

If you are reproducing something in a published format (in print or on the web), a “Maybe” could well turn out to be a “Yes, you do need to seek permission.”  

Complicated? Yes, but the slider makes it a lot easier to track.

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