Using copyrighted material

** Disclaimer: Only those regulations published by Ulm University on its German web pages are legally binding. Any claims to rights or titles resulting from the English translation of these regulations are expressly excluded. Translations may not be updated at the same time as the German legal provisions displayed on this website. To compare with the current status of the German version, see (Link zur deutschen Seite). **

When you share the copyrighted works of others in your teaching or complement your own material (e.g. lecture notes, lecture slides) with someone else's material, you need to comply with the respective copyright regulations. The German Act on Copyright and Related Rights (UrhG) protects works in the scientific, literary and artistic domain. This Act regulates if and how the use of materials is limited or permitted.

This page discusses the conditions and limitations stipulated in the UrhG with regards to using and providing copyrighted material in teaching. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.


Basic principles with regards to using materials in teaching

According to § 60a UrhG, sharing materials without the consent of the author or copyright owner is permitted under the following conditions:

  • Sharing the works serves the purpose of further illustrating the teaching contents (i.e. not merely decorative or entertainment purposes).
  • Only teachers, examiners and participants at the particular event (eligible circle of persons) have access. In Moodle, you should therefore use password protection for that course area, for instance.
  •  The teaching only serves non-commercial purposes (usually the case with regular teaching at the University).

Note: teachers and students are not responsible for the payment of royalties for the use of copyrighted material in teaching. According to § 60 UrhG, the payment of authors or copyright owners is carried out by collecting societies.

Provided that above conditions are complied with, the UrhG covers all important forms of use of copyrighted materials in higher education teaching. According to § 60a UrhG, you may use such works in the following ways:

  • reproduction: i.e. scanning, copying, saving;
  • distribution: i.e. handing out copies;
  • making works available to the public: i.e. making them available to the course participants in Moodle and as course records;
  • communication to the public: i.e. presenting them in the context of face-to-face teaching events.


In any case of use, you must always acknowledge the source.

Please note that in this context the definition of the term 'public' differs from its colloquial use. In the legal sense, communicating or making something available is considered 'public' the moment you share the material with more than one person with whom you have no personal relationship. This means that the limited group of participants in a teaching event is always regarded as public. Public in this context does therefore not mean that you may share the material freely e.g. on websites, but only with the eligible persons and within the above-mentioned conditions.

 § 60a UrhG generally permits the sharing of up to 15% of a published work (e.g. a book, movie, song) per teaching event, provided that the above-mentioned conditions are complied with.

§ 60a UrhG furthermore permits the full use of the following works:

  • illustrations;
  • isolated articles from scholarly or scientific journals, but only one article per issue!
  • small-scale works, i.e. up to a maximum of 25 pages, and
  • out-of-commerce works.              

Additional provisions:

  • Regarding material that you created yourself (e.g. lecture notes, instruction videos or presentations): it is up to you in which form and to what extent you share these and with whom. But caution: For your own publications (e.g. magazines, books, book chapters) you have usually transferred the exploitation rights to the publisher; those works are therefore subject to the same limitations stipulated in § 60a UrhG that apply to materials of another.
  • If the author or copyright owner have granted the right to use the work, you may use the material in accordance with the conditions agreed upon. If in doubt, simply ask! This also applies, for instance, if you wish to use materials of colleagues or students.
  • You may provide links to materials that are available online, e.g. to e-books and e-journals that are available at the library. Only limitation: please do not link to sources that are unlawful/ infringing copyrights; only ever provide links to trustworthy sources.
  • Works in the public domain (e.g. legislative texts or works whose authors have been dead for more than 70 years) may be shared freely.
  • If a copyright owner has applied a free license to their work (e.g. Creative Commons, Open Access...), it can be shared – however, please make sure to comply with the respective terms of use!
  • External contents are also often quoted in lecture notes, lecture recordings or presentation slides. Find tips on correct quotation here.

 The Act on Copyright in a Knowledge-Based Society (UrhWissG) explicitly excludes the use of certain materials or certain types of use:

  • Entire articles from newspapers or consumer magazines – these may be used up to a maximum of 15% per article or in the context of the Act on Quotation.
  • School books must generally not be used without the permission of the copyright owner.
  • Unauthorised video and sound recordings of live events as well as live streaming (e.g. cinema, concerts, readings).

Frequently Asked Questions on Copyright in E-Learning

§ 60a UrhG stipulates that copyrighted materials may only be used if they serve non-commercial teaching purposes and only an eligible circle of persons consisting of teachers, students and examiners are given access to the materials. You have the following options to ensure that only eligible persons have access to your Moodle course:

  • Secure your course with an individual password. In case your department (e.g. Psychology) assigns a general password for all Moodle courses, please change it. You can find instructions on how to set/change the registration password here.
  • Enable self-registration only for a limited period of time. This happens either automatically when you determine a registration period in Moodle or can be done manually by deactivating the self-registration. For instructions click here. This way you can keep non-eligible persons who know the password from registering for your Moodle course. If in doubt, compare the list of registered users with the list of eligible persons.
  • Alternatively, you can register the course participants manually. For instructions on how to do this, read on here.


No, you may provide the material to students, teachers and examiners of the respective course for as long as needed, i.e. at least till the end of exams. It is important, however, to continue to limit the circle of persons that have access to entitled persons only.

 According to § 60a UrhG, you may use a maximum of 15% of published material (e.g. a book, movie, song) per teaching event. The following applies for the calculation of how many pages or minutes equal 15%:

  • For books: 100% equals all pages that are predominantly text; this includes the table of contents, preface, introduction, reference list as well as index of names and subjects. Not included are empty pages and pages that consist predominantly of pictures, photos or illustrations.
  • Movies and musical compositions: it is up to the authors to determine the length of video or musical works. The outer packaging (e.g. CD or DVD case) usually states the length of a work. For musical compositions, the GEMA repertoire search is a reliable source of information.

Based on information pages of the University of Würzburg.

The regulations for scholarly or scientific journals permit that isolated articles of an issue may be used in their entirety in teaching. When it comes to newspapers and magazines, you may use up to 15% of an article max.

How to recognise a journal:

  • Journals that are licensed at Ulm University are verified in the electronic journal library (EZB). Usually, the journal should already be listed here.
  • A journal addresses a specialised audience and comprises articles in that field. Scholarly journals sometimes bundle several topics and disciplines. Trade journals publish topics around their specific field.
  • On you can search for journals that are listed in the directory of deliverable books (Verzeichnis Lieferbarer Bücher; abbreviation: VLB). The  Projekt JournalTOCs is a good starting point for an international search.

Based on information pages of the University of Würzburg.

The legislation has no definition for out-of-commerce works. A first orientation for books can be the directory of deliverable books (VLB).

The following definition of 'out-of-commerce works' was published by several associations of authors, publishers, libraries and collecting societies in the 'memorandum of understanding – key principles on the digitiziation and making available of out-of-commerce works', which was signed on 29 September 2011.

'For the purpose of the dialogue on out-of-commerce works, a work is out of commerce when the whole work, in all its versions and manifestations is no longer commercially available in customary channels of commerce, regardless of the existence of tangible copies of the work in libraries and among the public (including through second hand bookshops or antiquarian bookshops).

The method for the determination of commercial availability of a work depends on the specific availability of bibliographic data infrastructure and therefore should be agreed upon in the country of first publication of the work.'

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office (Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt; abbreviation: DPMA) maintains a register that contains a range of out-of-commerce works (but not all).

If in doubt, we recommend that you use the material in the same way as you would non-out-of-commerce works.

Based on information pages of the University of Würzburg.

In principle, it is permitted to use part of these works. It is, however, technically difficult to not exceed the legal limits. We therefore advise that you contact the developer or seller beforehand and ask for a license for your teaching or research project.

Based on information pages of the University of Würzburg.

The prohibition of video and audio recordings in 60a para. 3 no. 1 UrhG aims to inhibit the recording or live streaming of movie screenings in cinemas or live events such as concerts or readings, and the use of these recordings and broadcasts in the context of § 60a. This means that if you want to show a movie scene in your teaching, you need to purchase the movie on a DVD or the like.

Lecture recordings are not subject to this prohibition. It is important, however, that the lecture recording complies with the mentioned limits and conditions for the use of materials in accordance with § 60a UrhG:

  • i.e. the materials shown in the recording serve the purpose of teaching, the teaching is non-commercial, and only an eligible circle of persons is given access to the recording.
  • You present a maximum of 15% of a published work (e.g. book, song, movie) and/or only small works such as illustrations, isolated articles from scholarly or scientific journals, small-scale works, or out-of-commerce works.

Do you intend to make the recording available to a larger circle of persons than the teachers, examiners and students of the event? For the purpose of legal certainty, it is important that in this case you only use copyrighted works (e.g. pictures from a text book in presentation slides) in a way that ensures that their presentation is covered entirely by the Act on Quotation or other rights of exploitation (e.g. Creative Commons).

Based on information pages of the University of Würzburg.

Division (Dezernat) I provides a comprehensive handout on the Act on Quotation here.

If you want to include text excerpts or illustrations as quotations, it is important to elaborate the subject of the quoted material and to include a correct acknowledgement of the author and source.

The use of additional illustrations/text excerpts (e.g. as annexe) without further elaboration is not covered by the Act on Quotation.

Based on information pages of the University of Würzburg.

A collective reference e.g. on a separate slide or page is usually not sufficient as acknowledgement of source. According to § 63 UrhG, the acknowledgement of the source must be directly attributable to the content, i.e. you need to reference the source for each individual illustration.

A great overview of the copyright legislation on acknowledgement of source can be found here (German only):

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments


We are happy to answer any questions and give advice. We can also organise small workshops/presentations for your team, your work group or your course.