Providing Access to Digital Course Materials

Phillips Academy is committed to an efficient and compliant process for providing access to digitized course materials.

There are several ways for PA faculty to legally use copyrighted materials.

  1. The OWHL licenses hundreds of thousands of full text periodical articles and books.
  2. Some materials are freely available on the web, either with Creative Commons licenses or implied licenses.
  3. The copyright owners of some materials cannot be located.  These materials are called “Orphan works.”
  4. Some materials may be used under the “fair use” exemptions to copyright.
  5. The TEACH act permits the use of some digitized materials.
  6. The Copyright Clearance Center offers  transactional permissioning (heavily in use by some academic departments) and campus-wide subscription licensing.  We have been investigating the subscription for the past two years.

The problem is that  decisions to use copyrighted material are made by individual faculty members dozens of times each term.  These materials can be easily digitized and posted on their course pages in Blackboard (PANet.)  Unfortunately, the majority of these faculty members do not have the time or the data necessary to conduct a complete analysis of the material they want to use.  Depending on the department, the faculty may rely (possibly too broadly) on “fair use” or they may rely (possibly too broadly) on the purchase of permissions.

Facets of an Ideal Risk-Management System

  1. Faculty members would fill out an online form with the necessary bibliographic information for their required and recommended readings.
  2. Those items would be analyzed (by trained departmental secretaries?) to determine what rights we already have through licenses, public domain, “fair use” Creative Commons, etc. to use them.
  3. Permissions would be obtained if necessary. (A source of funding would present itself!)
  4. Students would access the materials through the PANet or the OWHL e-reserve system.
  5. The whole process would be repeated each term.
  6. The system would not interfere with teaching or the administration of the departments or the OWHL.

How do we get there from here?

An important first step is to make a determination of the percentages of the works that our faculty uses that fall into each of three categories:

  1. Works that are available for legal use, including materials licensed by the OWHL, materials freely available on the Web, and works created by members of the PA faculty.
  2. Works that probably qualify for fair use, including very small amounts of copyrighted works and orphan works.
  3. Works for which a quick decision cannot be made, and which therefore require further analysis.  Permissions will need to be purchased for a certain percentage of this group.  These permissions can be purchased from CCC on a one-time basis (“transactional”) or under a blanket annual subscription license.  Information about the annual license is available here.

Which way should we go?


  1. A centralized system for analysis and transactional permissioning is neither philosophically acceptable nor financially feasible.  Faculty will continue to make individual decisions about course materials (sometimes at the last minute)  and departments will be tasked with obtaining permissions.
  2. PA currently spends thousands of dollars on transactional permissions.  Some of these permissions are not needed, because the materials they cover are already available via license, the free web, or fair use.  The redundancy will be difficult to eliminate from the system, given the amount of expertise required to make these  decisions.

When we first began investigating the annual subscription license two years ago, the list of covered publishers did not include a number of the publishers whose materials we use.  I believe that we should revisit the possibility of purchasing the annual subscription.  The first step would be to undertake an analysis of the match between the publishers we need and the publishers covered.


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