I'm an instructor teaching a course. Can I post individual chapters from several books to Canvas as readings, instead of requiring a textbook?

I'm an instructor teaching a course. Can I post individual chapters from several books to Canvas as readings, instead of requiring a textbook?

The quick answer to this question is a qualified "yes." How firm that "yes" is depends on whether or not the books you want to use are ones that the library would be able to make available as e-books, or if you'd be excerpting from open access/OER books, or if the books would be neither of these.

If the library does own the books and they're relatively contemporary, then it's most likely we do own them in e-book format, in which case this is pretty simple and there should be no problem: you can just link students directly to the chapters through the library, so they can log in and get access with their Rowan credentials. The only exception to this, though, is that as a matter of policy we don't collect actual commercial textbooks (as opposed to more general academic books), so if the types of books you want to use chapters of are true textbooks, it's unlikely we'd have them available. On the other hand, though, if there are open textbooks out there online that you'd want to include chapters of (for example from the Open Textbook Library), you could also simply link to those.

Alternately, if you want to use a chapter from a book we own in a print copy, you could place a copy of that book on reserve at Campbell Library using our Course Reserves form. This would let students come to the library in person and check out the book for brief periods to read it. This may be less of a viable option, however, for online courses and others where students may not necessarily have ready access to campus. Scanning a copy of the book chapter and placing it in Canvas would be a possibility, though it would be slightly more risky -- but not much so, if it's a book that the university owns anyway.

On the other hand, if you want to upload a chapter each from books we don't own, that is possibly okay but entails a bit more risk. We are librarians, not lawyers, and this shouldn't be considered legal advice, but the basic copyright situation is this: Generally speaking, because a chapter tends to be a relatively small percentage of a book's content, and making it available on Canvas limits access to only students in the course and is for educational purposes, doing so is most likely to be considered fair use. There's no hard and fast rule for how much of a book is acceptable, however, nor can you be 100% certain that a use is fair. You may encounter the suggestion to use no more than 10% of a book, but that's only a guideline, and doesn't have a formal legal basis; using more than 10% doesn't automatically make a use not fair, and using less than 10% doesn't automatically make it fair either! Fair use is a complex and subjective determination that is only definitively made in court, if a lawsuit is brought for copyright infringement. When I say that using part of a book could be risky, I mean that it's permissible if you make a good faith determination that it would constitute fair use, but that doesn't protect you from the possibility that publishers could take legal action anyway. The less of the book is used and the more caution you exercise, though, the less likely that is, and the more likely it is that a court would rule in your favor even if it did happen.

So essentially, it's a judgment call about what you're comfortable with. It is an unfortunately ambiguous answer, but copyright and fair use are ambiguous, by design! If you'd like more information, Columbia University has an excellent Fair Use Checklist that provides more information and guidance on estimating whether a use of a copyrighted material is fair.

Last Updated: Jan 24, 2023

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