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Copyright Policy

It is the intent of the MGH Institute of Health Professions that all members of its community comply with United States Copyright Law (What is Copyright?).

It is the responsibility of each individual to abide by these laws and guidelines, and subsequently liability for infringement rests with the individual. The purpose of this statement is to provide information about copyright law so that every member of the Institute community may make informed decisions before reproducing, altering, displaying, distributing, or preparing derivative works from materials in the course of their work here.

The Basics You Need to Know

Because of a provision called "fair use," you may make paper copies of articles and single chapters that are under copyright protection and distribute them to your classes as long as:

  1. This is the first time you are doing so for this particular article or chapter,
  2. The distribution is limited to only those students registered for the particular class,
  3. The length of the article or chapter does not make up a major percentage of larger work (journal issue or book),
  4. The first page of the photocopied item includes a copyright notice that reads: Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code).

Distributing articles electronically is a bit trickier. The TEACH Act of 2002 limits distribution of materials to only those that may reasonably be used during a class session (generally precludes using more than excerpts of written materials or clips of audiovisual materials without gaining permission), and does not include supplemental materials.

To avoid getting tripped up, instead of storing the pdf in your Iware course or sending it as an attachment to all of your students, just link to it.

If your situation does not meet any of these criteria, you will need to seek permission from the copyright holder.

For more details about these basics, please see the following sections:

Fair Use
Classroom Use Guidelines

Penalties for Infringement

Liability for infringement almost always falls to the individual committing the act. Therefore each individual in the Institute community must be responsible for his or her own actions when it comes to copyright, and it may be helpful to know that the penalties can be harsh (U.S. Code from Cornell University Law School). Willful infringement can cost you as much as $150,000 for each act.

There is some protection if the person committing the copyright infringement can reasonably claim that he or she though their actions fell under the fair use provisions (see details under Limitations to Copyright). That’s quite an incentive to read and follow your institution’s copyright policy.


This document is a policy statement only and is not intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

For more information, please contact Jessica Bell, Director of the Office of the Library and Instructional Design, MGH Institute of Health Professions.

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