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No textbook is perfect. So if I want to supplement my course with some material (a few pages from different references every now and then, on topics I find lacking or weak in the textbook):

  • is it legal to make copies of those a few pages and give them to the students as hand outs?
  • is it legal to scan them and upload them on the course site?
  • should I email the authors to take their permission 1st? what if one author is dead?
  • in case the above is a violation of copyrights so what should I do then? asking the
    students to go read those parts in the library? (the students would need to keep a copy of the reading/supplementary materials)
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Your library will probably have someone who's an expert at this very question – EnergyNumbers Feb 7 '13 at 12:30
Almost for sure, it depends on country. – Piotr Migdal Feb 7 '13 at 13:02
In the Netherlands, you can copy around 23 pages without a problem, and without consent of the authors. – Paul Hiemstra Feb 8 '13 at 7:32
up vote 9 down vote accepted

First, in most cases, the channels through which you distribute the material to your students (hardcopies, restricted-access course website) is not important. Secondly, the copyright holder for each work is (again, in most cases) the publisher, not the author. Thus, getting permission from the author is not necessary.

So, the surest way to avoid trouble is to secure the permission to reproduce the content from the publisher. Publishers should have an online page (e.g., see here for the American Chemical Society publications) explaining how to obtain this permission. Many academic publishers nowadays rely on a centralized online service called RightsLink, where you can directly select the material you want to reproduce and the conditions in which you will use it:

       enter image description here

The tool then tells you if you can get a permission to reproduce at no charge (it usually is if you want to reproduce only small parts, a few figures) or if you would need to pay.

Finally, under US law you may qualify for a fair use right to reproduce parts of a copyrighted content.

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For Germany, §53 of UrhG allows actually a lot (compared to other countries' fair use policies). The deal is that flat fees on copying machines, scanners, printers, etc. (as well as on paper) are collected and redistributed to authors.

I find §53 slightly ambiguous for the university teacher:

(3) says rougly:

It is allowed to make copies of small parts of works, of small works, or of single articles that are published or made publicly available in newspapers or journals for personal purposes

  1. to illustrate in teaching at schools, non-commercial facilities for education and advanced training as well as in facilities for professional training in the numbers required for the course participants.

  2. for state exams or exams in schools, universities, non-commercial facilities for education and advanced training as well as in facilities for professional training in the numbers required.

So the "universities" are missing in 1. Usually, I'd say they are covered by those other categories, but they are explicitly listed in 2.

However, for sure the students are allowed to make a copy: (2) 1. runs:

(2) It is allowed to make or have made single copies of a work

  1. for personal scientific use, if and as far as copying is needed for this purpose and does not follow commercial purposes.
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