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10 Course Pack Copyright Myths

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LAD is 100% copyright compliant. We research, negotiate and pay copyright permission fees. This indemnifies faculty, students and bookstore partners for copyrighted materials used in the course packs we produce.

Here are real answers on some of the more often-cited course pack copyright myths.


1) The Internet is Public Domain.

Work published on the Internet is easily accessible to the public as a whole, but this does not mean it is public domain.

There are 3 main categories of public domain works:

  • Non-copyrightable items, such as names, ideas and facts, and government works. Note, some names and ideas may be protected under patent or trademark laws.
  • Works that have been placed in Public Domain by their creators.
  • Works whose copyright has expired and been placed on the public domain, which is usually around 70 years after the author of the work has passed. Think Walt Whitman. He’s been gone for a while. You are legally able to go forth and O Captain! My Captain!

Remember, though, you cannot use public domain Whitman from an annotated anthology. If you want to use an anthology in your course pack copyright permission has to be granted by the rightsholder of the anthology.

As soon as an author creates a work it is automatically protected under copyright laws, regardless of whether that work is published on the Internet or not. This counts for blogs, too. Read an interesting blog that will add insight to your course material? Permission to use the blog content still has to be granted by the author.

So tread carefully with public domain. It’s always best to let our copyright professionals research the material.

2) I don’t have to get permission again for material I used last year.

False. When copyright permissions are granted for a course pack, they are typically granted for a specific year and term and for an enrollment number.

We re-clear copyright permissions on all material.

3) The ol’ “Fair Use” rule.

Fair Use allows limited unlicensed use of copyright-protected work in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act does a long-winded job of breaking down what certain circumstances actually means: A) the purpose of the use, commercial or noncommercial; (B) the nature of the work; (C) the amount and importance of the portions used in relation to the whole of the original work; and (D) the effect of the use on the potential market, or value of the original.

The public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. Research and parody fall under this rule, as well. So does the two-sentence attributed quote within your own work. However, if your course pack includes even just a piece of an article or book chapter, reproducing that copyrighted content in your course pack without consent can potentially lead to legal action. And “Fair Use” may not save you.

In 1991, Kinkos waved the fair use flag and failed, eventually had to pony up nearly 2 million dollars for copying and distributing copyright content in course packs without permission.

Always seek permission before you use the work of others in a course pack.

4) Educational use is free use.

Not always so. A math instructor cannot make copies of a math textbook for the entire class so students don’t have to buy it.

5) I gave the author and publisher credit so all is well.

While giving the author credit is the right thing to do, fair use is completely separate. Legally, if you do not have permission to use the material you won’t get many bonus points in court because you gave the author credit.

6) Creative Commons (not a myth, just an explanation).

Creative Commons licenses are standardized methods of granting copyright permissions, which allows content creators to easily share their work while retaining copyrights.

Here are a couple of Creative Commons licenses, and their logos. It is important to note that a course pack would fall under “commercial” use.


Attribution CC BY

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build a work, even commercially, as long as they credit for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered.


Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially.

Creative Commons Licenses” by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

There are more Creative Commons licenses. Visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ for more information.

7) Hard to Prove Copyright Infringement.

Not true. Copyright infringement is mostly handled as civil law, which requires a lower burden of proof than criminal law.

8) Out-of-Print Books.

Even if a book is out-of-print, permission still has to be granted to use it in a course pack.

9) The author said I could use it in my course pack.

This is great! We need the permission in writing for legal protection.

10) The author emailed me a copy so I’m good.

Having a copy of a work does not grant permission to distribute that work in a course pack to others.


Education, awareness and access to convenient means to obtain copyright permission are the best ways to ensure that your organization is doing the right thing with regard to copyright law. Unless you and your colleagues understand when and how to obtain permission to re-use and distribute copyright-protected information, you cannot be sure that your organization is copyright compliant.

For more information, visit LAD’s copyright cost management page.