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Copyright Policy

MGH Institute of Health Professions

Copyright Policy

It is the intent of the MGH Institute of Health Professions that all members of its community comply with United States Copyright Law. 

It is the responsibility of each individual to abide by these laws and guidelines, and subsequently liability for infringement rests with the individual. The purpose of this statement is to provide information about copyright law so that every member of the Institute community may make informed decisions before reproducing, altering, displaying, distributing, or preparing derivative works from materials in the course of their work here.

What is Copyright?

According to the United States Copyright Office (2017), it is the legal protection of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • Distribute copies of the work to the public
  • Perform the work publicly, live or as a recording
  • Display the work publicly, including the individual images of a motion picture of other audiovisual work

What You Need to Know

Because of a provision called "fair use," you may make paper copies of articles and single chapters that are under copyright protection and distribute them to your classes as long as:

  1. The distribution is limited to only those students registered for the particular class.
  2. The length of the article or chapter does not make up a major percentage of larger work (see more details in the section on Fair Use).
  3. The decision to use the work is so close in time to the moment of use that there is not enough time to request permission (see more details in the section on Fair Use).
  4. The first page of the photocopied item includes a copyright notice that reads: Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code).

Distributing articles electronically is a bit trickier. The TEACH Act of 2002 limits distribution of materials to only those that may reasonably be used during a class session (generally precludes using more than excerpts of written materials or clips of audiovisual materials without gaining permission), and does not include supplemental materials.

The other issue that makes electronic distribution tricky is the license agreement that is explicitly or implicitly "signed" when an individual or institution acquires materials. These agreements can trump fair use guidelines and vary from publisher to publisher. If you want to distribute the PDF of an article to your students, you will need to consult the license agreement to determine whether that privilege is allowed. 

To avoid getting tripped up, instead of storing the pdf in your D2L course or sending it as an attachment to all of your students, just link to it. Learn how to find stable links to articles in library databases.

If your situation does not meet any of these criteria, you will need to seek permission from the copyright holder.

The information here is largely based on the U.S. Copyright Office's Circular 21 - Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians

Penalties for Infringement

Liability for infringement almost always falls to the individual committing the act. Therefore each individual in the Institute community must be responsible for his or her own actions when it comes to copyright, and it may be helpful to know that the penalties can be harsh (U.S. Code from Cornell University Law School). Willful infringement can cost you as much as $150,000 for each act.

There is some protection if the person committing the copyright infringement can reasonably claim that he or she though their actions fell under the fair use provisions (see details under Limitations to Copyright). That’s quite an incentive to read and follow your institution’s copyright policy.