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I teach economics at an Indian University and recently came across some good publicly available lecture slides by another professor (US R1 University). I would like to share the slides with my students (with slight modifications). To be clear, I do not want to use the slides during my lectures but only provide the slides as reference material (of course, with due credit to the original creator).

I have emailed the professor requesting permission to reuse their slides, but I haven't heard from them. The slides themselves do not carry any copyright notice, but are available on the professor's personal website.

Assuming the prof does not respond, is it appropriate/ethical to distribute the slides, and simply mention/link the original source? Ideally, I would have liked to add a note saying "Slides used with permission from Prof. X", but if Prof. X hasn't explicitly given permission, can I still add the note?

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  • Is there a link to the slides on the professor's website? If not, how did you "come across" the slides?
    – Buffy
    Dec 22, 2023 at 10:52
  • Yes, it is a public link on a publicly available/searchable website. I was searching for material on a particular topic when I came across these slides. Dec 22, 2023 at 10:57
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    Under American copyright law, the original creator of those slides holds the copyright (unless they've specifically relinquished it), and you are not really permitted to make copies, distribute copies, etc unless the creator has explicitly granted you that right. There are some exceptions for fair use (you can use portions of the slides for educational purposes, for example), and it is unlikely that you would ever be caught and/or prosecuted for redistributing these slides, but doing so would (technically) put you on the wrong side of American copyright law. Dec 22, 2023 at 13:12
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    If you're intending to use these lecture slides as lecture notes for your students, as opposed to using them as lecture slides during a lecture, then wouldn't it be better to find actual lecture notes? Lecture slides are intended to be shown during a lecture, and they are typically not suited at all to replace a well-written textbook or well-written lecture notes.
    – Stef
    Dec 22, 2023 at 14:31
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    @Stef Is that a useful frame challenge? Presumably Acad has decided these slides are useful to share, no matter the format. Dec 22, 2023 at 19:41

2 Answers 2

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You can certainly share a publicly available link to the materials. The students could, themselves download them or use them online. Since they are copyrighted (most likely, as is true most everywhere) you are not allowed to distribute them yourself or modify them for use. That is the strict view.

But it seems odd (foolish) for the professor to provide a link and then try to restrict use of what is available at that link. I think you could probably use a "good faith" argument that they are intended for public use. And a "fair use" argument might apply if you show them unmodified to a class/lecture without, yourself, distributing them.

At worst you would get an order to "cease and desist", though that seems unlikely. You haven't reduced the value of the slides by using them unmodified in front of a group of students.

However, look for any specific license accompanying the link and limit use to what is described there.


One issue to be aware of is that material on the web can change or disappear. I suggest that if you are able to make contact with the author that you ask for permission to archive and distribute them to your class, or try to get some assurance that they won't change in the near term. I've had things that I've linked to disappear.

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    Look specifically for a reference to Creative Commons, either on the professor's web site or on the slides themselves. If it's there, read the relevant CC license. Other copyright marks might be bad news.
    – Bob Brown
    Dec 22, 2023 at 11:43
  • By 'distributing', I meant sharing the link (not giving out printed copies). So, I guess I will go ahead with that. I tried searching for a license note but couldn't find it: the slides are simply listed on the "teaching" page of the website. Dec 22, 2023 at 11:44
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    If you can see the link, so can your students. There doesn't seem to be any issue.
    – Buffy
    Dec 22, 2023 at 11:48
  • See my edit for an additional suggestion.
    – Buffy
    Dec 22, 2023 at 11:56
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    @AcadEconInd You don't need anyone's permission to link to someone's slides, so if that's the only thing you want to do, I wouldn't press the issue with the professor. But I don't understand how "I meant sharing the link" is consistent with "slight modifications" to the slides. Dec 22, 2023 at 12:04
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Assuming the prof does not respond, is it appropriate/ethical to distribute the slides, and simply mention/link the original source? Ideally, I would have liked to add a note saying "Slides used with permission from Prof. X", but if Prof. X hasn't explicitly given permission, can I still add the note?

Under no circumstances can you add a note saying that Prof. X said it was OK if they did not do that.

In modern US law you do not need to claim or renew copyright to have copyright. If you wrote it then you own it, and nobody else can use it without permissions. Every single web site comment area (like this) will have terms & conditions that make you transfer the copyright to the site before being able to comment.

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