Skip to Main Content


Balancing Cost and Copyright

Ensuring course readings are readily available to all students without being too costly is a prime concern for faculty and for LITS.  However, there are copyright considerations to keep in mind.  In general, fair use arguments can be made when limited amounts of copyrighted material are used for educational purposes, the audience for which is limited to students enrolled in a particular class (by providing access to the materials in a password-protected environment, such as Moodle), and offered in formats that are not susceptible to further copying/downloading.  Providing links to online materials (rather than copying them) is also a safe call because no copies are being made.  Here are some quick tips for best practices.


Best practice for full-length books:

To mitigate costs for students, also consider:

  • Books for your course should be listed in my.mtholyoke as early as possible, giving students time to consider their options and to plan.   
  • A copy of the book(s) can be put on Reserve in LITS.  Required readings listed in my.mtholyoke are automatically put on Reserve - no need to request separately.   You DO need to request any recommended, optional, or supplementary readings.  
  • Ask LITS to purchase the e-book.  Not all books are available for library purchase in electronic format, but we will try.  If we can get the e-book, you can then just link to the book from Moodle. See Place a Course Reserve for more information on the process.
  • Consider whether there are low-cost or free alternatives among the growing body of Open Educational Resources.  Research Services librarians can help you to look for OER alternatives.

Note that except in rare circumstances, scanning whole books would not pass a Fair Use test and is a serious copyright violation.

Accessibility Exception:  If you have a student in your class who is registered with AccessAbility Services (AAS) and who has an alternative format accommodation, please email AAS.  AAS will provide digital content to the registered student.  Please note, however, that it would be a violation of copyright to share these files more widely.

Journal Articles or Book Chapters

Articles from journals or chapters from books will generally be considered a small portion of the whole work and therefore are more likely to meet a Fair Use test, expanding the options for making them available to your students:

  • Consider whether the materials are already accessible electronically from online services or databases (e.g. JSTOR, PsycArticles, etc.).   For electronic books, search the library catalog.  You can then just link to the material from Moodle.  There are no copyright concerns here.
  • Request scans from LITS for electronic reserve.  LITS can scan the article or book chapter, and you can post it to Moodle. See Place a Course Reserve for more information on the process.  There may be copyright concerns here, but LITS can help you manage them.
  • Scan the article yourself and post it to Moodle.  On the up side, this offers full control and therefore more flexibility/spontaneity in assigning or changing readings. It also offers your students quick and easy access. You, however, are responsible for managing copyright.  Scanning a large portion of a work is problematic even if access is restricted through Moodle.  See our pages on Fair Use and The Four Factors Explained and How to Assess if You are Using Materials Legally.

If you want a large portion of a book that LITS does not own electronically, please:

  • Ask us to purchase the e-book.  See Place a Course Reserve for more information on the process.  It is not always possible for libraries to acquire the text you want electronically, but we will try.  If we can get the e-book, you can then just link to the material from Moodle and there will be no further copyright concerns.
  • Seek permission for scanning from the copyright holder.

Interlibrary Loan:  Please note that PDFs received through Interlibrary Loan are meant only for personal study, scholarship, or research needs and may not be further distributed.  If you need an article or book chapter for a course reading, please Place a Course Reserve.


There are serious copyright concerns involved with coursepacks since they are specifically prohibited in most interpretations of Fair Use.

Essentially you need to have copyright permission on each piece to compile a coursepack which adds considerably to both the time needed and the expense. Often the royalties/permission fees charged will end up doubling the cost of the coursepack.

Note that if you place the individual readings on reserve (or E-Reserve) there are fewer concerns than if you want to keep the readings together as one large compiled document.

For more on securing permissions for Coursepacks, see Stanford University's page on Academic Coursepacks.

MHC Accessibility Barriers Form