Recently, DARTH Crimson met with Allan A. Ryan, Director of Intellectual Property at Harvard Business School Publishing, to discuss a hot topic: intellectual property laws in the digital age and what they mean to faculty and students here at Harvard University.

As there are not many explicit rules, there is no clear formula to consider concerning others’ IP and how you may use it. Ryan stressed, however, that these laws are not as restrictive as they might seem and individuals should be aware of what they can do as well as what they can not.

In the context of the classroom, a provision has been made that anyone in the course of face-to-face instruction may perform or display any copyrighted work without permission, something which has recently been extended to distance education as well. It is a provision that has been carved out of the general IP laws specifically to support education.

In short, the line is crossed from fair use into copyright infringement when you begin copying. For example, linking to a YouTube video on your course website is acceptable, no matter who the video’s copyright holders are. The line is crossed when you begin saving videos to your own computer or server, in other words making your own copies, and sharing them that way. This “no copying” rule of thumb can be applied to many instances, such as distributing photocopies or scanned versions of textbook pages without permission from the owner.


For those who would like to learn more about this subject, Ryan wrote a pamphlet called “Copyright and Fair Use: A Guide for the Harvard Community” that is available in the Copyright Resources section of the Harvard University Office of the General Counsel’s website. If you still have unanswered questions, Ryan added that “Librarians can be very helpful with licensing questions and concerns.”

If your intended usage of someone’s IP is outside the realm of fair use, the Copyright Clearance Center might be able to grant permission for you to use a subscriber’s materials. Getting permission is often not as much of a hassle as it seems; Harvard Business School Publishing and other publishers have teams dedicated to efficiently answering emails, and your inquiry might earn almost an immediate response in some cases. It is worth adding that to gain a license is not necessarily expensive and they are often available for a nominal fee.