Crash course in copyright law for professors

U.S. interactive guide shows how to avoid breaking copyright in class


When I went to university, there were two types of professors: those who loved using audio, video clips and pictures in their classroom slideshows, and those who stood at the front of a lecture hall and talked.

But according to Baruch College at the City University New York, some professors might not be using copyrighted material in their classes because they don’t want to break any copyright laws and are erring on the safe side. For those teachers, and those who might be unknowingly breaking the law, the university recently released their interactive guide to using multimedia in academic courses.

Riding the “copyright metro,” professors can click through various questions about the multimedia they want to use in the classroom or online, which leads the user though a maze of options and questions, along with some additional information about fair use and American copyright law.

Keep in mind, though, it’s a primer on American copyright law. For some Canadian copyright resources for profs, you can take a peek at the Canadian Education Ministers of Canada’s Copyright Matters!


Crash course in copyright law for professors

  1. Karen,

    As a law prof who teaches and writes about Canadian copyright law, I am happy to see Macleans covering this issue. Indeed, there is is much confusion and misinformation out there which is holding back the full potential uses of many resources. However, your reference to the 2005 publication Copyright Matters is probably not the best resource for professors, students and librarians who would like a balanced analysis of what their rights are under the modern Copyright Act in Canada.

    In 2004, a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada issued a landmark decision in CCH vs Law Society of Upper Canada ( While the case deserves much more discussion than the limited space in this quick response permits, the gist of the holding was that the rights of users need to be carefully balanced against the rights of copyright holders. The court gave the fair-dealing defense a much broader reading than had previously been the case, and its implications are profound. Unfortunately the publication that you refer to does not reflect the broad scope of fair-dealing that the Supreme Court of Canada has endorsed.

    I would recommend a recent publication from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) which goes into more detail on fair-dealing, especially as it is relevant to academic staff trying to grapple with copyright issues today. It is available online at .

    I would also be remiss if I did not mention a recent book which I co-authored along with Laura Murray, an English prof at Queens University entitled Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide (2007, Between the Lines Press). Finally, for readers interested in keeping current on copyright developments in the blogosphere, I would point to,, and .

    Copyright law has gone through some important changes in the last few years, and it is important for everyone involved in the educational process to fully understand their rights, which are much broader for users of information resources than they used to be.

    Samuel Trosow, Associate Professor
    University of Western Ontario
    Faculty of Law / Faculty of Information & Media Studies

  2. “Copyright Matters”? No way. It is a terrible source. Please do not promote it.

  3. @W McLean

    Can you suggest something similar that is generally applicable within Canada? It’s true that most universities have their own internal copyright guides, but they can be hard to navigate or out-of-date. I’d love to see what else is out there if you know of any better resources.

  4. Murray and Trosow: Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide.

    The university’s internal guides are just as bad a Copyright Matters, generally speaking.