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Medical Student Resources

Best Practices for Using Copyright Materials

The 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. 

Best advice?

Assume everything is copyrighted unless you definitely determine it is not.  See The Basics tab for more information about what is and is not covered under copyright.

Personal use of materials?

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

Avoid:  Posting a copy of the document to a public Website or where other people have access, that can include Facebook, Google Docs or other open file sharing service, or placing it in a database or on a server where other people have access to it. 

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.

Our tipsheet on creating links may help you!

Sharing materials with others, even fellow students?

Best practice:  Send a link to an online document, book chapter, etc., or send them a citation to the paper copy for them to make a copy. 

Avoid:  Posting anything to a public Website or where other people have access, that can include Facebook, Google Docs or other open file sharing service, or placing it in a database or on a server where other people have access to it. 

See our tab on E-Resources for more information about what you can do with electronic resources at Duke.

Need to share materials for a class or project?

Best practice:  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 as well. 

Avoid:  Sending a PDF out via email, posting the PDF on an online site, creating a CDROM

Required readings for a class?

Best practice:  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.  Also visit our copyright guide for teachers and find more information on Duke's Scholarly Communications website.

Receiving a copy from someone else?

Best practice:  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.  Follow the same guidelines above about sharing materials with others.

Avoid:  Saving and sharing pirated works.  Unless someone has obtained permission from the copyright owner or is not covered by the copyright law (see The Basics tab for details) the person may not have permission to give you or anyone else a copy.

Materials on file sharing sites?

Best practice:  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. 

Avoid:  Downloading documents or files of materials created by others from file sharing sites since there is a high likelihood it has been pirated.

See the tab above on File Sharing for information about Duke policies and other things to consider.

Seeking permissions to post materials?

Best practice:  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.

Avoid:  Assuming that an author owns the copyright!  Double-check to see if you need to be working with the publisher instead.