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Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching

A guide for faculty, staff, and students at Penn about how to obtain, manage, and understand copyright issues for their work

Using Third Party Materials in Online Courses

Instructors of online courses do NOT have the same copyright protections as those teaching physical face-to-face courses, so there are extra precautions you must take when creating an online course.

Images, videos, audio, and text can all be meaningful additions to your course content. Before incorporating an image in lecture slides, reposting an article in Canvas, or adding a video file created by someone else, consider these questions:

  • How does this material (image, text, video, etc.) help me to make my point?
  • Do I need this particular item to make my point or is there a potential substitute?
  • How much of this material do I need to use?  Is it possible to use only part of it?
  • Is my use "transformative;" in other words, have I made the link between the material and the point I wish to make clear?

 

Determine if the material is under copyright

If the third party content is essential to understanding the material or meeting your teaching goals, then it’s important to determine its copyright restrictions.

 

What about fair use?

Instructors may be able to make a better fair use case for content posted in Canvas if they do the following:

  • Use only brief quotations from the literature of a discipline and incorporate them into a lecture and/or the accompanying slides.
  • Directly critique or comment on the image in the slide.  For instance utilize a graph, and mention in the commentary how the graph relates to a larger point.
  • Utilize materials that are "factual" instead of materials that are "creative" in nature.  For example, utilizing a graph of a study that is only illustrating facts published in a scientific article is more likely to be considered a fair use than using a piece of art, which relies more on creative interpretation rather than factual demonstration.
  • Use the material in a "transformative" way; that is, the purpose of the use in the course is completely different than in the original purpose of the material.  Examples of "transformative" use could include juxtaposing images next to each other to show differences, or overlaying commentary or drawings on top of an image to highlight particular features.

Instructors may use content that is in the public domain or licensed for any use, including for-profit purposes, under an appropriate Creative Commons or similar license. In all cases, instructors should make an attribution to the original source in their slides or other class materials.  If including attribution on the particular slide or at the time when the work is used would harm the flow of the instruction, acknowledgment may appear at the end of an individual lecture.  For more information about citation and attribution refer to the "Citation" section of this guide. It is preferable to link out to files if they are available on the web. Doing this decreases the chances that the course will be subject to a “take down” notice.

 

Caveats for MOOCs and instructor websites

Content developed for an instructor website or a massive open online course (MOOC) are considered visible to the public. Fair use may apply but in a more limited fashion than it does in closed classroom environments, including on campus instruction.

  • Try to create your own content, particularly for images.
  • Limit your use of third-party copyrighted materials to cases where it is essential to the pedagogy of the course.
  • Consider using content that is in the public domain or licensed for any use, including for-profit purposes, under an appropriate Creative Commons or similar license.
  • Always make an attribution to the original source in their slides or other class materials. If including attribution on the particular slide or at the time when the work is used would harm the flow of the instruction, acknowledgment may appear at the end of an individual lecture. For more information about citation and attribution refer to the "Citation" section of this guide.
  • Link out to files if they are available on the web.

Using Images

Finding Open Access Images provides guidance for locating open access images.

If it isn't feasible to create your own image or locate an open access image, consider searching a stock photo image site to find licensed content. If you've located an image somewhere else, try to make a fair use determination. If you are unable to do so, you may need to ask for permission.

Tips:

  • Examine the image's relationship to your learning goals and objectives. If it isn't necessary for learning or integral to the point of the lesson, consider removing it. Pictures or figure should be subjected to commentary and critical assessment.
  • Use the material in a "transformative" way; that is, the purpose of the use in the course is completely different from the original purpose of the material. Examples of "transformative" use could include juxtaposing images next to each other to show differences, or overlaying commentary or drawings on top of an image to highlight particular features.
  • Use diverse sources (not too much reliance on a single source), and the number of images should be limited.
  • Use licensed substitute (such as a picture carrying a Creative Commons license or dedicated to the public domain) when a general picture is needed to depict a subject but a particular picture of that subject is not required.

 

Using Text-Based Materials

If you are unable to use public domain or openly licensed (e.g., Creative Commons) materials AND are unable to make a good fair use argument or use another copyright exception, you may need to get permission to reuse all or part of a work.

Tips:

  • Using short quotations from books, articles, or other textual materials that are incorporated into a lecture and/or the accompanying slides are generally fair use and do not require permission.
  • Distribution of more text than a short quotation, however, likely does require the permission of the publisher (not necessarily the author) of the work.
  • Publishers are more likely to grant permission when the author is using his or her own work.  Therefore, instructors are encouraged, when possible, to use their own work.
  • Publishers are also more likely to grant permission when students are encouraged to buy the work being used.  So, whenever possible, instructors should make a recommendation to purchase the book or article from which an excerpt is taken and link to a site where students can purchase the book.
  • Instructors should also check whether a particular article is now available through an open-access repository (such PubMed Central or ArXiv), a society, or a university (such as through an institutional repository).
  • Textbook publishers may be willing to authorize use of the image content and other materials from a textbook in your recorded lectures, if the text is a recommended resource for the course. Some journals, too, may be willing to authorize use of articles or content taken from articles (or "portions of articles") in course lectures and recommended readings. Moreover, faculty who are the original authors of such articles are more likely to obtain permissions for these uses.

 

Using Audio/Video

If you are unable to use public domain or openly licensed (e.g., Creative Commons) materials AND are unable to make a good fair use argument or use another copyright exception, you may need to get permission to reuse all or part of a work. Note that musical compositions have two layers of copyright: one over the music and lyrics and another over the sound recording.

Tips:

  • Use of other musical or sound recordings should be evaluated carefully and on a case-by-case basis. Popular music or videos should be given extra scrutiny.  
  • Instructors are encouraged to use documentary, educational, older, or historic films and videos wherever possible.
  • It is preferable to link out to a sound file if one is available on the web.  In those cases, students would be directed to follow the link, and then return to the lecture.  This is especially appropriate when the entirety of a video or audio work must be seen or heard before the lecture will continue. 
  • Files used should generally not be longer than is needed to make the pedagogical point.
  • If possible, the discussion of what students are hearing should be intermingled with audio and video files. 
  • When a substantial clip of audio or video, which will not be intermingled with discussion, is incorporated into the lecture, rather than linked to, permission should be sought.