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Medical Student Resources

Best Practices for Using Copyrighted Materials

These best practices are intended to help you avoid violating the U.S. copyright law. This advice applies to books, book chapters, journal articles, documents on Websites, videos, and other materials. Assume that everything is copyrighted unless you definitely determine it is not.  

Use of Materials Best Practices What to Avoid
Personal use of materials

Save a link in citation management software, make a paper copy for your files or download one copy to your password protected computer.

Keep your personal copy private!  If you prefer using an online site for storing documents make sure only you have access to them and see what the online service allows you to do in the terms of agreement or users license.

Check out our tipsheet on creating links to Journal Articles.

Posting a copy of the document to a public website or where other people have access, that can include Facebook, Google Drive or other open file sharing services, or placing it in a database or on a server where other people have access to it.

Sharing materials with others, including fellow students Send a link to an online document, book chapter, etc., or send them a citation  Posting anything to a public Website or files sharing service where other people have access without signing in with their Duke NetID.
Need to share materials for a class or project Send out a link or post the link on the class site (BlueDocs, Sakai, etc.) which is password protected.  You can also bring paper copies to the class or group meeting. Sending a PDF out via email, posting the PDF on an online site, sharing a flash drive with a copy of the PDF.
Required readings for a class Work with your faculty member to help make required readings more accessible.  Faculty members can post links and PDFs to course sites.  Your faculty member can work with the Library on providing access to materials.  Sending a PDF out via email, posting the PDF on an online site, sharing a flash drive with a copy of the PDF.
Receiving a copy from someone else Assume the work is copyrighted and that you do not have permission to post it or share it with others.  Be careful about saving and storing pirated works as well.  A single article may not be a problem, but an entire book or video would clearly violate copyright laws.  Saving and sharing pirated works.  Unless someone has obtained permission from the copyright owner or is not covered by the copyright law, the person may not have permission to give you or anyone else a copy.
Sharing materials on file sharing sites Seek permission from the copyright owner before posting a digital copy of anything.  Assume that everything on a file sharing site is protected under copyright and assume it may NOT be legal to download it unless the person posting the item clearly states that they have obtained full permission from the copyright holder to share the document.  Downloading documents or files of materials created by others from file sharing sites since there is a high likelihood it has been pirated.
Seeking permissions to post materials Continue to use links to online materials!  Seeking permission can be time consuming since often it is a publisher who owns the copyright and not the author who turned their rights over to the publisher.  It can also be costly if the copyright owner, especially a publisher, wants to charge fees for the use of the materials. Assuming that an author owns the copyright!  Double-check to see if you need to be working with the publisher instead.