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Copyright and Fair Use: Copyright & Online Teaching

A review of current copyright issues and fair use guidance, with a focus on theological study and research.

Three Questions Before Posting Material Online

There are three questions that should be considered prior to making copyrighted material available online via a CMS/LMS or course reserves system:

  1. Is the material copyrighted?
  2. Is the material subject to a license, agreement, or other terms of use?
  3. Does your proposed use of the copyrighted work qualify as fair use or fall under some other exception?

The information below and in the other parts of this Guide will help you answer these questions

Copyright and Contracts

Digital or electronic resources such as article databases, e-journals, e-books, streaming media, and digital music files are subject to various kinds of contracts including license agreements, terms of use, and subscriber agreements. The terms and conditions of these contracts govern how content contained therein may be reused and shared and should always be consulted prior to posting, linking or reproducing that content. Even if the proposed use would qualify as a fair use, if the contract states that the content may not be shared in the proposed way, you must abide by the terms of the contract or else risk losing access or other actions as a result of the breach of that contract.

Text Materials - Can I Use That?

  • Always link to the existing digital version of the text (e.g., article in a database). Most license agreements require use of the stable or persistent link provided and forbid downloading of content for re-posting in a CMS/LMS or electronic course reserves system.
  • Digitize hard copy texts and post electronic version in secure site accessible only by enrolled students within bounds of fair use.
  • Seek permission of not fair use.
  • Look for Creative Commons or open access content such as article versions that have been posted in an open repository according to the archiving policy of the publication. Utilize a service such as Unpaywall to help locate open access versions of scholarly material.

Video - Can I Use That?

  • Digitizing and streaming video - under exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), educators may create short digital clips of video to stream to online students. 
  • Be aware of terms of use accompanying existing streaming or digital video - educational use may be prohibited in absence of license or may be prohibited entirely where a personal subscription account (e.g., Netflix)
  • YouTube and other websites - we wary of linking to content that has been posted in violation of the copyright holder's rights as it may be taken down; do not use capturing software to download video content posted to these sites as may violate terms of use as well as rights of copyright holder
  • See Showing Movies in Class and on Campus page for more information

Images - Can I Use That?

  • As a best practice, be sure you are sharing legal copies of images, which is often hard to determine when searching globally online for images, and provide attribution for images used, even when incorporated into lecture slides.
  • Be aware of possible textbook or license restrictions when utilizing or incorporating images from instructional/curricular materials.
  • Use public domain or openly licensed images whenever possible. See the Creative Commons and Public Domain pages for resources where these image types can be found.

Audio - Can I Use That?

  • As with other forms of digital media that is either purchased or subscribed, be mindful of and adhere to terms of use that restrict or prohibit streaming or sharing in any quantity or for any purpose. 
  • In the absence of any restrictive licensing or subscriber terms, utilize fair use with digitizing and streaming audio recordings.
  • Whenever possible, utilize Creative Commons or otherwise openly licensed content or locate sound recordings in the public domain for streaming. The Creative Commons and Public Domain pages of this guide provide resources where you can locate audio content.