The creator of any original work owns the copyright, and the work does not have to be registered for copyright to be effective. There also can be joint ownership for collaborators who create work together. However, there is a difference between who holds the rights to contributions to a collective work versus who may hold the right to the collective work as a whole (i.e., anthology, edited volume with chapters by different authors).

Copyright Owner Rights

By law, a copyright owner has specific rights to his or her work. These include the right to:

  • Reproduce

  • Perform or display publicly

  • Distribute (sale, lease, rental, gift)

  • Prepare derivative works or adaptations

These rights are transferable in whole or in part if the copyright owner chooses to do so. However, if rights are transferred this does not necessarily mean the ownership of the work (material object) is also transferred.

Consequences of Infringement

The consequences for copyright infringement may include penalties for actual and statutory damages. The extent of the penalties often will be determined by whether it is judged to be innocent or willful infringement. Other factors influencing outcome include the following:

  • Does a registration exist?

  • Is owner contact information obtainable?

  • Did the use fall under the special nonprofit education and library remission rule?

Who Owns Your myCourses/Blackboard Course Site and Related Materials?

In the absence of a written work-for-hire agreement that the you voluntarily sign, copyright ownership vests in the individual faculty member. Individual campuses and departments can establish work-for-hire arrangements as long as employees sign a written waiver surrendering ownership of their work. While faculty can waive their rights, campus administrations cannot obtain rights without an individual’s written consent.

What Should I Know About the TEACH Act?

Current copyright law gives educators the ability to use certain copyrighted works for educational purposes without securing permission or license. The Technology, Education & Copyright Harmonization Act (or simply TEACH Act) is intended to carry the spirit of these exemptions into the digital age, making it possible for an instructor to provide any content online that would otherwise be provided in a classroom.

Specifically main points of  the act include:

  • Both digital and analog transmission of a work will be covered by the educational exemption from copyright law.

  • Current law requires transmission of a work to be sent to a classroom or other place normally used for instruction. The TEACH Act will simply require that the transmission be made by or at the direction of an instructor as part of a class.

  • To minimize the risk of copyright infringement through unauthorized distribution, digital works should be safeguarded. To the extent technologically feasible, transmissions of copyrighted works be limited to official course enrollees.

  • An educational institution must have nonprofit status in order to take advantage of the exemptions.

Tips and Good Practices

Having worked with instructors from across campus, we’ve assembled some tips and good practices to consider when using someone elses’ work. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the CLT, your resource librarian, or legal professional.

1) Secure Permission to Use Personal Contributions

When you seek permission to use personal contributions from other faculty, students, presenters, or guest lecturers, make sure you request permission to display, copy, or distribute an individual’s likeness, words, talent, actions, photographs, illustrations, and/or graphics.

  • For what work are you seeking permission?

  • Who will “own” the permission?

  • Who is seeking the permission?

  • What is the purpose for your seeking permission?

  • Who will be granting the permission (with signature line)?

  • Date of  the permission signature (with signature line).

2) Be a Role Model for Your Students

In addition to following the legal guidelines yourself, teach your students how these issues also may apply to them. Demonstrate how to legally use others’ published and unpublished materials and student contributions. Discuss the concepts of plagiarism and intellectual property rights. Help students understand the difference between citing or showing sources in the classroom versus copying/publishing materials in print or on the Internet. 

3) Take Advantage of Existing Options and Resources

  • Do the Libraries already own or license the material (e.g., full-text articles)?

  • Could this be handled through E-Reserves?

  • Is this a situation with which the Libraries’ Scholarly Communications could assist?

  • Do your textbook publishers already provide the material you need in an electronic format, or would they allow you to scan the material for use in an access-controlled environment online? (Contact your publisher’s representative. The CLT may be able to provide assistance in conversions and adapting existing course materials to work with publisher- provided materials.)

  • Is online distribution the best means of getting this material to your students?

  • If you are using student-developed materials, do you have a release form from them to re-use their work?

4) Safeguard Materials for which you have permission, or for which you’re claiming fair use.

  • Is all the material on a password-protected site like myCourses/Blackboard?

  • Are you using conditional release features in the software to prevent guest access or access by former students?

  • Are you posting the requisite copyright notice?

5) Post Copyright Protection Notice on Your Site

In addition to such notices as the owner of the copyright might require, recent changes in the law require a notice be posted on the course site and placed in distributed materials. We recommend you place an appropriate disclaimer in your syllabus or in your myCourses/Blackboard course. Your statement could read like this: “Materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection.”

6) Practice Common Courtesy

When using colleagues’ work, reinforce good working relationships by communicating clearly. When considering intellectual property issues that are more related to professional ethics rather than law, try reversing positions and see how you would feel if you were in the shoes of the other party.

Specific details to facilitate your copyright request:

  • When asking others for use of their intellectual property in myCourses/Blackboard  or other systems such as Course Reserves, stress that you will credit them in a copyright notice.

  • Make it clear that you will display their property in a password-protected environment. This can sometimes tip the scales in your favor, particularly with publishers.

Campus  Copyright Resources

  • The University's Scholarly Communications Program provides information regarding copyrightin addition to a service for faculty needing permission to display copyrighted materials on their Web sites or courses.

  • Course Reserves allows individual documents to be password protected. Electronic reserves are uploaded to myCourses by Reserves staff.


This material is based on Legal Issues: Copyright, Accessibility, and FERPA by Educational Technologies (ET@MO), University of Missouri, Special thanks to Charles Rigdon, Educational Technology Specialist, for allowing us to modify and redistribute this work.