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Copyright Basics for Online Courses (Unit 7)

If you are like most faculty members, you strive to create interesting courses that engage your students.  This is a difficult task in the online environment, and usually requires text and multimedia resources.  But how can you add these resources to a CampusWeb course without infringing upon copyright?  This unit explains the basics of copyright law and the aspects to consider before adding resources to a course. 

Copyright Tutorials

The tutorials below provide an overview of copyright fundamentals such as fair use and the public domain.  Although the tutorials are branded to specific universities, much of the content is universally applicable.

Copyright 101 (Brigham Young University)

Introduction to Copyright and Fair Use (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries)

Fair Use Checklist (Kenneth D. Crews (Columbia University) & Dwayne K. Buttler (University of Louisville)

What Materials Can I Use in My Course?

  • UI&U Library: The UI&U Library contains millions of articles, e-books, and other resources that can be shared within the UI&U community (including a variety of video, image, and other multimedia resources).   Please note that resources must be shared using links; PDF's cannot be uploaded into courses or shared by email attachment.  Review the Syllabus Links section of this course to learn how to properly format links so viewers are authenticated as members of the UI&U Community. 

  • Creative Commons: The Creative Commons search allows you to locate multimedia resources to add to your course.  Each resource will have an individual Creative Commons license, which clearly lists any usage restrictions such as non-profit use or creator attribution.  Creative Commons allows you to search popular databases such as YouTube, Flickr, Google Images, Jamendo, and Wikimedia Commons for resources with Creative Commons licenses. 

Below is an example of a Creative Commons licensed photo that can be used in an online course.  Note that it includes a complete citation and a copyright notice, which is a best practice for online courses. 

Syria” by Erik Barfoed is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Barfoed, E. (2009). Syria [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://flic.kr/p/6Xy8wu.

  • Public Domain: Any resource that is in the public domain, i.e., out of copyright, can be added to an online course.  Resources enter the public domain if the creator grants the work to the public domain, the work was created by the U.S. Government, or the copyright expires.  This includes materials published in the United States before 1923 (please see the American Library Association's Public Domain Slider for specific terms and dates).

Below is a public domain image found using Wikimedia Commons.  Public domain images do not require a copyright statement or attribution (although it is good practice to include a citation with the image).

Lepape, G. (1919). Vanity Fair cover [Photograph]. Retrieved from


  • Links: You can link to a resource that is legally available online.
  • Copyrighted Materials (With Permission): You can use copyrighted materials in CampusWeb if you have permission from the copyright holder (please see Columbia University's requesting permission page and sample permission letter). 
  • Copyrighted Materials (Without Permission): If you do post copyrighted materials to CampusWeb, please be sure you meet the fair use guidelines.  According to the UI&U Intellectual Property Policy, "if in doubt about whether a proposed use of copyrighted material falls within the 'fair use doctrine' employees of UI&U are expected to either obtain permission to use the material from the copyright owner, or otherwise obtain guidance from the Provost" (please read the Observance of Copyright section for complete details).  Additional information about determining fair use can also be found in the tutorials listed above.

Textbooks & Required Readings

If the material is not available through means above (this occurs most often for textbooks and required readings), the material cannot be legally posted in an online course and students will need to purchase a copy.  Below are some strategies for providing access: 

  • Books and Textbooks: New and used books are readily available online and in local bookstores.  In addition, several online companies offer textbook rentals at discounted prices, and there is a growing collection of freely available textbooks (please see Open Culture and Open Access Textbooks). 
  • Articles: Students can purchase single articles directly from the publisher.  To purchase an article: search by the article title using Google Scholar.  Then click the article title to go to the publisher's website and purchase the article.  If this does not work, use a Google search to locate the publisher's website. 
  • Coursepacks (Multiple Articles & Book Chapters): If you are assigning multiple articles or book chapters, it may be cheaper and easier for your students if you create a coursepack.  Several commercial companies provide print and electronic coursepacks.  If you provide these companies with a list of your assigned readings, these companies will obtain the necessary copyright clearances and assemble a coursepack your students can purchase. 
  • Alternative Articles/Books:  UI&U Librarians are happy to help locate alternative articles and books that are available in the UI&U Library.

Copyright Best Practices

When using copyrighted materials in an online course, it is a good idea to follow these best practices. Remember that you still need to obtain permission from the copyright holder or meet the fair use guidelines in order to satisfy university policy.

  • Keep copyrighted materials within CampusWeb
  • Limit access to students currently enrolled in your course
  • Limit access to the shortest time period possible. Use the start and end date display options in the CampusWeb handouts portlet.
  • Use legally obtained content that is directly related to what you are teaching
  • Educate your students about the importance of copyright and not redistributing copyrighted materials.
  • Include a copyright mark (©) and citation with copyrighted materials (use alt+control+c to insert a copyright mark)
  • Use small portions of a work (e.g. a book excerpt)
  • Do not disable DVD and CD DRM or other copyright protections
  • Use technology safeguards to prevent redistribution (i.e. streaming videos and watermarked or low-resolution images)
  • Do not include copyrighted work that would normally be purchased by a student such as textbooks and coursepacks

Unit 7 Assignment (optional, worth 20 points): Complete the copyright tutorials/guides listed above and send an email to the instructor when you are done (please include a note explaining that this is in regards to Unit 7 of the Faculty Library Orientation).  Then try finding a creative commons licensed image that you can use in your course.