Part 5: Online Instructional Materials

Legally Reusing Content

Almost everything falls under copyright law. Whether there is a copyright notice on it or not, you should presume it is copyrighted until you have evidence otherwise. So how can you tell if you can use a document, video, image or audio clip in your class legally?

If you are embedding media (for example, embedding a YouTube or TedTalk video into your course page like the Creative Commons one below) or if you are linking to an outside source (like the link below to Columbia University), copyright is not an issue. You are merely pointing students to the original source of the work, not duplicating or redistributing the work in any way. If you are not embedding from or linking to an outside source, there are three main allowances for use without requesting permission (and potentially paying a fee) to the copyright holder: public domain, Creative Commons, and fair use.

Copyright does not apply to works in the public domain; this includes general facts, words, ideas, names, short phrases (that are not trademarked slogans), methods, content written or produced by the US government, and works old enough that copyright has expired. For more information on public domain works, please see the Columbia University copyright site.

If the copyright holder has chosen Creative Commons (CC) licensing you may use the work based on the CC terms. Creative Commons and other Open Access publishing options enable copyright holders the ability to allow reuse of their works while still retaining some rights under U.S. law. For more on Creative Commons licensing, please see the following video.

If you are using a small amount of a larger work, using it in a limited way, and controlling who can access the work, you may be able to use it under Fair Use guidelines. Fair Use means using a copyrighted work

for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

17 USC Section 107)

Use the Fair Use Checklist to help you make a solid judgment—that you can justify if challenged—about whether your planned use is allowed under Fair Use.

One thing to keep in mind is that images are not a special case. Everything on the internet should be presumed to be fully protected by copyright law—including images—unless it specifically states otherwise. There are many images that are freely available to use with or without attribution through public domain or Creative Commons licenses but they’re not necessarily easy to find. Pexels and Pixabay are good sources of stock images that do not need attribution. The Wikimedia Commons has a mix of images that do and do not require attribution. Compfight is a Flickr search tool that pulls Creative Commons licensed images that you can use with attribution.

See Presentation Visuals in the Canvas Semester Checklist for a full list of sources for free images that you use with or without attribution.

When using Google Image Search, you can filter by usage rights and select “labeled for non-commercial reuse.”

What you commonly see on a non-filtered Google image search is a large number of stock photos that other people have paid for and placed on their website. So for example, the surprised girl in this Medical News Today article is for sale from the iStockphoto repository. Just because Medical News Today paid iStockphoto for the license to use that image does not mean that anyone can take that image from Medical News Today and use it for their own purposes. Commercial stock photos are never going to fall under fair use. This is because using it without paying for it explicitly replaces the sale of the copyrighted work and there is a reasonably available licensing mechanism for use of the copyrighted work.

If you’re not sure whether or not the image you want to use is a commercial stock photo, use the TinEye reverse image search to check. You can upload the image in question or paste in the link for the image on the original site where you found it. Note that you need to use the image URL (usually ending in .jpg or .png) and not the page URL (usually ending in .com, .net, .gov, .edu, .org, .html, or .apx).


California State University. Copyright and Fair Use: Common Scenarios



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Online Course Development Basics Copyright © by Trustees of Indiana University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.