Copyright Basics for the Health Sciences

Learn the basics of copyright law and the fair use guidelines from a health sciences perspective.

Printing and Distributing Online Patient Handouts

Scenario: Tiffanie would like to have some patient handouts ready to give out as needed. She finds some useful ones online and prints them out so she can make copies. She is careful to include the source so that her patients will know who wrote the handouts. She figures that because she is providing information written for patients to patients, she isn't doing anything wrong. Is she correct?

Tiffanie may be able to copy and distribute the handouts, but not exactly for the reason she's considering.  Tiffanie should look for copyright information on the website where she found the handouts to see if the site creator has licensed the handouts to allow medical practitioners to distribute copies.

For example, the copyright statement on this patient handout from the American Academy of Family Physicians states that only one copy may be printed out for personal use.

MedlinePlus shows how complicated making this decision can be. MedlinePlus is a .gov site and some of the information it contains is created by government employees and therefore is freely available for redistribution. But MedlinePlus also purchases and links to content, much of which has restricted reuse.

So, always check for copyright information on the specific content you want to use. If in doubt, contact the content creator for permission.