I have seen some few syllabuses online that look very similar. Is it fine to adopt any syllabus or instructors need to have their own syllabus? And do instructors need to get permission from the original syllabus writer or just link and acknowledgement?

  • Are you referring to the content of the courses described in the syllabi, or do you simply mean the style and format of the syllabus document itself?
    – aeismail
    Oct 20 '15 at 18:08
  • @aeismail the description, text books used, grading policy etc.
    – Thomas Lee
    Oct 20 '15 at 22:31

In some cases, it could be that the instructors had a template provided by the school. When I was an instructor at a college, I was required to update a few things on the syllabus, like my name, but I was required to NOT change ANYTHING else. I had no flexibility (in that one specific way... I did have a whole lot of flexibility with just about every other way that I ran my particular class, which I know is quite different than what some other instructors experience). One thing I did have the flexibility to do was to create my own addition to the syllabus, but the college bureaucracy, which determined the official course objectives, also mandated a certain amount of information get presented unaltered.

In that case, I, as the instructor, never bothered to check the copyright of each and every syllabus, because obviously I had the organization's permission to do what the organization absolutely required of me.

This is just one example: The main point being, in some cases, instructors might not be creating their syllabus entirely from scratch. Surely, the specific details vary from school to school.


It's probably a (morally) minor copyright violation in the US to just copy the material and use it. At the very least, you'd want to borrow that material with written (email is fine) permission from the original writer. You can't simply acknowledge your way out of copyright infringement. IANAL, but there are those who might argue in the US that the collection of what you will teach in what order when is not sufficiently creative enough to warrant copyright protection (it's already that way for recipes), but that's an argument for a court to hear not a way to rationalize your own behavior.

On top of this, there's probably local things required by your university or government that will be specific to you that will need changing anyway, so unless you are borrowing last year's instructor's syllabus from your own university, you're presumably going to want to do more than just copy someone else's.

  • Then why research papers can copy a text or quote from another paper with just a citation and without a written permission?
    – Thomas Lee
    Oct 20 '15 at 14:15
  • Quoting is an accepted practice. In the US, it clearly falls under the Fair Use parts of our copyright laws. It's typically such a small amount of the original, that there's no issue and no one sues anyone.
    – Bill Barth
    Oct 20 '15 at 14:19
  • What about using some text and images from a book to prepare class slides? Does that require a written permission also?
    – Thomas Lee
    Oct 20 '15 at 14:24
  • 1
    In many cases nowadays, if you adopt a textbook for your class, the publisher will provide you with slides to use in class.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 20 '15 at 14:59
  • 1
    Other questions, not related to syllabus adoption, should be elsewhere.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 20 '15 at 15:29

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