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Posting copyrighted materials online

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Making instructional materials available to students online can raise legal issues of copyright and the fair use of the intellectual property. The following information addresses issues surrounding the digitizing, posting, and other uses of copyrighted works, such as articles, book chapters, sound or video recordings, and visual images. This information will introduce users of online course management systems to the legal options for using protected materials and to some alternative sources for instructional media. Much of the information in this document came from the former Copyright Management Center at IUPUI.

Note: This article contains general information about some instructional uses of copyrighted materials; it is not intended to address specific uses. As a first step in considering the use of online course materials, including finding public domain sources and analyzing for fair use, contact your campus teaching and learning center. If you have more detailed questions or would like to discuss the application of fair use to a particular activity, or other copyright issues, you may contact the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel at 812-855-9739.

For further information and resources about copyright, see the Indiana University Copyright Resource Guide. The IUB Libraries also maintain a Copyright page that may be helpful.

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Alternatives under the law

Current copyright law protects nearly all text, images, audio-visual recordings, and other materials, even if the original works do not include any statement about copyright. Copying and posting copyrighted works online, even for instructional purposes, may violate the legal rights of copyright owners. Nevertheless, instructors have several legal alternatives for teaching with protected and other works online, including:

  • Securing permission from the copyright owner
  • Linking to materials on other sites, rather than copying and posting
  • Using material in the public domain
  • Lawfully using protected materials after a "fair use" evaluation

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Linking to databases and the web

Linking to materials that are available on the Internet or in databases raises fewer copyright questions than copying and posting those materials. University libraries provide access to numerous full-text databases, image databases, and recordings, and librarians often have negotiated licenses that permit linking, printing, and other necessary uses in the educational setting. University librarians can help instructors locate materials and make links (whether in Oncourse or other online locations) while ensuring appropriate authentication.

Note: Instructors at IU Bloomington have access to some film and video titles streamed online; see Digital Streaming Titles.

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Works in the public domain

The copyrights on some works have expired, and others have always been in the public domain, leaving them without restrictions on copying, uploading, and many other uses. Most notably, works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. In addition, broad categories of works, such as works of the US government produced by government employees acting within their duties, have no copyright protection. For more about the public domain, see former IU School of Law Professor Kenneth D. Crews' white paper The Expiration of Copyright Protection: Survey and Analysis of US Copyright Law for Identifying the Public Domain.

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Fair use

The "fair use" exemption to copyright protection is the best known and the most important statutory exception for education. Fair use allows instructors to make limited use of copyrighted works without permission. For guidance in evaluating and applying fair use in instructional settings, see Copyright and Fair Use: Borrowed Media for Instruction.

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Alternatives for information delivery

Instructors may want to explore various alternatives for information delivery, including some familiar options:

  • Print reserves: In some cases, putting books on reserve at a campus library may meet your instructional goals.

  • Coursepacks: Photocopies of materials are often a feasible alternative. Students may purchase the copies from the supplier or from campus bookstores.

  • Textbooks: Having students purchase published works in paper or electronic format is appropriate when assigning substantial reading from these works.

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This is document arit in domains all and oncoursecl.
Last modified on January 16, 2014.

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