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Copyright and Fair Use: MSUB Guidelines

Information resources on copyright law and fair use guidelines for the MSUB community.

MSUB Guidelines for Educational Use of Copyrighted Materials

Montana State University Billings Guidelines for Educational Use of Copyrighted Materials


Montana State University Billings is dedicated to providing the highest quality of instruction in both face to face and online environments. Inherent in this charge is the notion that faculty should be encouraged and supported to use the resources that, in their best judgment, are most relevant to their courses.

However, the university and all its employees must adhere to intellectual property rights and copyright law. (Title 17 of the United States Code). The principles of copyright law that apply to electronic course content are the same as those that apply to printed course material, regardless of whether the electronic content is textual or audio-visual, or where it is stored (e- reserves, D2L, iTunesU, for example). If permission would be required for a print use, it will be required for an analogous electronic use.


The digital age has made potential course content available in a wide variety of ways, and faculty can often choose amongst several formats to make reading, viewing and listening materials available to students. If it is possible to link to material that is either publicly available on the Web or available to the MSUB community through a database licensed by the University Libraries, further permission is not needed to use that material.


When it is necessary to make a copy of the material, rather than simply linking to it as described above, permission is not needed if the works are in the public domain or are offered freely under a Creative Commons license. For other material, a fair use analysis should be considered; if fair use is determined not to apply to the specific use, permission must be obtained. Many publishers have explicit use statements available on their websites and in the copyright information of their publications; instructors are best served by determining a specific rights holder’s requirements for permission.


A fair use analysis is based on four factors found in section 107 of the Copyright Act: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the entire work and the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Resources for determining fair use may be found through the MSUB Library Research Guide. For many activities, these circumstances will be especially important when relying on fair use:

  • Your use is nonprofit and educational,
  • You are using only a small part of a work and no more than is needed to accomplish your teaching objective, and
  • Access to the portion of a copyrighted work is restricted to students registered for the specific class in which it is needed.

For each use for which fair use is claimed, a copy of the completed checklist can be retained to show the good faith of that claim; this is especially important when all of the above circumstances do not apply to a particular use. When relying on fair use, materials should be attributed properly and marked to indicate that they are subject to copyright protection. As noted above, copyright protected course content should be kept behind password barriers so that only students in the class  can access it. Materials should remain available only for a limited time, usually no longer than necessary for a particular class use.

MSUB Library

The MSUB Library can assist instructors who wish to provide students in their classes with access to copyrighted articles, book chapters, and more.