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Copyright Reference Guide For Educators

Course Assignments

Educators must consider the concept of fair use and its legal implications as they prepare assignments that require students to use outside materials—audio, visual, or print—that are likely to be copyright-protected. This is particularly important if students are required or intend to distribute their work on internet platforms such as YouTube, websites, or portfolios. 

If a student creates an internet project using copyrighted materials, it cannot be used/displayed widely unless copyright permission is sought or the use of copyrighted content falls under fair use. If permission is not sought and the use is not fair use, web access should be restricted to the instructor and/or to the other students in the class. If their work incorporates, modifies, and transforms the used copyrighted content in creative ways that add something new, they may meet the transformativeness standard, and thus their work might fall under fair use. 

Even if students are not required to distribute their work via the Internet it is imperative that instructors guide their students in understanding the complex world of copyright and fair use, given the increasingly dynamic and participatory information landscape of the 21st century.

In general: 

  • Students may incorporate portions of lawfully acquired copyrighted works when producing their own educational multimedia projects for a specific course.

  • Students may perform and display their own projects and use them in their portfolios or use their projects for job interviews or as supporting materials for application to graduate schools.

The following chart is designed to inform students on how they may use a particular work and how much of a work may be used in their projects. It should be kept in mind, however, that the chart below provides only guidelines and no absolute rules.


Copyright and Fair Use Guide for Students for Educational Purposes Only



What you can do 

The Fine Print

Printed Materials

  • Poem less than 250 words

  • Excerpt of 250 words from a poem greater than 250 words

  • Articles, stories, or essays less than 2,500 words

  • Excerpt from a longer work (10% of work or 1,000 words, whichever is less--but a minimum of 500 words)

  • One chart, picture, diagram, graph, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue

  • Two pages (max) from an illustrated work less than 2,500 words (like children's books)

  • Incorporate text into a multimedia project 

  • Copied text must be properly cited 

Text for Use in Multimedia Projects

  • Same limits as "Printed Material" above

  • Students may incorporate text in multimedia projects.

  • Students may add it to their portfolio and keep it for life.

  • Copied text must be properly cited 

Illustrations and Photographs

  • Photograph

  • Illustration

  • Collections of photographs

  • Collections of illustrations

  • Single works  may be used in their entirety but not more than 5 images by an artist or photographer.

  • From a collection, not more than 10% or 15 images, whichever is less 

  • Although older illustrations may be in the public domain and don’t need permission to be used, sometimes they’re part of a copyright collection. Copyright ownership information is available at or

Video ("Motion Media") for Use in Multimedia or Video Projects

  • Videotapes

  • DVD

  • Laser Discs

  • QuickTime Movies

  • Multimedia Encyclopedias 

  • Video clips from the Internet

  • Students "may use portions of lawfully acquired copyrighted works in their academic multimedia", defined as 10% or three minutes (whichever is less) of "motion media"

  • The material must be legitimately acquired.

  • Proper attribution and credit must be given for all copyrighted works included in multimedia, including those that fall under fair use.

Music (for integration into multimedia or audio/video projects) 


Cassette tapes 

CDs Audio clips on the Web 

  • Up to 10% of a copyrighted musical composition may be reproduced, performed, and displayed as part of a multimedia program 

  • A maximum of 30 seconds per musical composition may be used  

  • Alterations to a musical work should not change the basic melody or the fundamental character of the work 


  • Internet connections

  • World Wide Web

  • Images may be downloaded for student projects.


  • Sound files may be downloaded for use in projects 

  • Resources from the web  may not be reposted onto the Internet without permission.

  • Links to legitimate resources can be posted

  • Any resources downloaded must be legitimately acquired by the website


Copying/Scanning of Library Materials for Private Study

Making copies or scanning from library materials in excess of “fair use” is considered copyright infringement. Students may copy or scan parts of a work (a book chapter, a journal article) as long as it falls under fair use and those copies are retained by the student for their own private study. Students may not share the copy/scans with anyone else either in print or digital formats. When storing documents on an online site, students must ensure that only they have access to those files.

All library materials (on reserve, display, and in circulating collections) are subject to copyright but the Library does not police or restrict the use of its materials.

Use of Student-Created Content

An institution or educator may use student-created materials as part of their teaching materials only if they have sought permission from the copyright holder – the student. Usage requiring consent includes the posting of student materials in a public location such as the Internet or a campus art gallery. Written permission must be obtained before displaying a student’s work in a public setting. For more information, please view “The Use of Student-Created Materials” section of Copyright Clearance Center’s Other Campus Copyright Issues

Films on Campus

When advising student clubs and/or learning communities, faculty advisors must keep in mind that “public” viewings of film, in which a film is shown in a place open to the public and which anyone can attend, require explicit permission from the copyright owner for "public performance" rights (PPR). DVDs owned by SMCCD libraries, and streaming video content that is licensed by the Libraries, may not automatically come within PPR. Individual videos may allow limited performance rights and it’s best to check with the Library on a title-by-title basis. Neither students nor faculty may stream content from their personal Netflix, Amazon Instant Videos, Spotify or other such subscription services for public display whose Terms of Service allows for personal use only.