Instructional Materials – Copyright

Due to the variety of instructional materials potentially available for an online course, copyright must be a foremost concern when deciding which to include. Both text-based and multimedia components of a course are potentially subject to copyright, so it is vital that instructors determine the copyright restrictions on any existing content they want to use in a course. Since the goal behind copyright is to balance the rights of authors with the rights of the public to use the work, there are ways to legally re-use content created by others.

Tips for using existing content without violating copyright law:

  • Determine if the material is in the public domain, which automatically includes U.S. Government works and works created before 1923 (among others).
  • Use material associated with a license that allows for a particular use that is applicable to the online course; e.g., library-licensed materials, materials licensed via a department purchase, or Creative Commons-licensed materials.
  • Perform a fair use analysis of the material, which necessarily takes into account: 1) the purpose and character of use; 2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 3) the amount and substantivity of the portion taken; and 4) the effect of the use upon the market or the potential market.
  • Obtain permission from the copyright holder for a particular use of the material. (However, this raises a number of potential issues including: locating the rights holder, paying for rights, or getting declined.)
  • Link to web resources rather than embedding them.

If this seems a bit overwhelming, the library is a great place to go to select resources before you’ve found the exact item that you want to use. In fact, it is recommended that instructors schedule a consultation with a librarian to go over the specific questions and options they are looking at in terms of reusing instructional material.

Librarians can help locate permissions, determine fair use criteria for a resource, and provide a list of resources and databases that are generally cleared for copyright and/or accessibility. The UW Libraries Course Reserves department can also put items aside for the class either in physical or digital form.

Copyright Resources: