Course Packets

Course packets are the custom educational materials that many faculty members publish to supplement or replace textbooks. They contain combinations of original manuscripts, published journal articles, book excerpts, photographs, or illustrations. These photocopied materials enable students to read from a wide variety of sources without having to purchase a large number of books. By the late 1980s, book publishers realized they were losing sales owing to such photocopying. As a result, several publishers, including Basic Books, Inc., filed a lawsuit in federal court against one of the largest photocopy firms in the United States–Kinko‘s Graphics Corporation, a company that in 1989 had more than two hundred locations and annual sales of $54 million. The court found that Kinko‘s was guilty of copyright infringement. It ordered the company to pay $500,000 in damages to the publishers and issued an order forbidding it to prepare anthologies without securing permission from and prepaying fees to the appropriate publishers. Below is a very brief question and answer followed by links to websites concerning copyright law and course packets. If your concerns are not addressed you are encouraged to contact your campus librarian.


Do I need permission if I am making copies to distribute to my class?

Educational use alone is insufficient to make a use in question a fair one. The copying will fall within the "fair use guidelines" noted above if it meets agreed standards of spontaneity, brevity, and cumulative effect and each copy includes a notice of copyright. A good example of legal copying could be if a professor reads an article in the morning newspaper, and distributes it in class that afternoon. However, any reuse of the article in a subsequent semester without first receiving permission would not be covered by the guidelines. The cumulative effect means that "fair use" is limited as to the length, occasions and frequency of work copied. Full chapters or other substantial excerpts from copyrighted documents require permission before copying.

Why do I need permission if I wrote the article or book?

The author of the book is not necessarily the owner of the copyright since the copyright protects both the content and the image of the content. If the publisher, by contract, holds the particular rights for reproduction, then, for uses that do not fall under "fair use guidelines," the author should contact the publisher. The publisher can provide a letter granting permission and acknowledging that the article will be included in the packet for sale.

If the book is out-of-print, is permission needed?

Yes. Just because the book is out-of-print does not mean that the work is no longer protected by copyright. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the rights holder plus 75 years. It is best to contact the publisher's copyright permission department to determine whether the work is still under copyright or in the public domain.

Do I need permission again this semester if I was granted this material last semester?

Yes. Permission needs to be obtained every semester.

Do I need permission if there's no copyright notice on the material?

Yes. The absence of a copyright notice does not mean that the work in question is not protected, such as information downloaded from the internet.

Why do we have to apply for permission so far ahead of time?

Publishers do not always control the rights and need time to check the extent to which permission may be granted, the status of the copyright, the materials to be duplicated and assignment of author's royalties, if fees are involved. The earlier your request is received, the better. Timely submission permits the publisher to review its author's contract and complete its processing, and in case permission cannot be granted, it provides time for you to substitute other materials.

Can I use material in my course packet even though I don't remember where I got it from?

No, it is likely to be protected by copyright. You must determine the source if you want to reproduce it.

Adapted and used with permission from Duplicating Services at Temple University.