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Copyright for Faculty

Copyright Information for Faculty

Copyright in the Online Classroom

The Internet has opened up the traditional classroom to the world at large. As with any new frontier there are new questions and concerns, and the online classroom is no exception. Does the password-protected environment of Desire2Learn or MySCCPortal mean that Web copyright issues are of no importance? Can Fair Use as it is understood in a traditional classroom still apply?

The information available here is to help SCC faculty understand their rights when placing original work within an online course and to guide them in properly using the copyrighted works of others.

Rules of thumb

Classrooms are defined by being a place for mediated learning in a closed (i.e. password protected) environment. Unlike the Web, which is public for all to use, closed environments restrict access of materials to those who have registered for a course. TEACH Act (2002) and the Fair Use provisions of the copyright law offer a high degree of flexibility to faculty members who wish to use copyrighted work within their online classroom. According to the TEACH Act, faculty members can use the following without seeking permission from the copyright holder:

  • Performances of non-dramatic literary (textbooks, novels, poetry) or musical works in their entirety. -- A streaming audio reading of a poem, for example. Or a streaming audio of The Beatles singing "Here Comes the Sun".
  • Performances of any other work (plays, movies) in reasonable and limited portions. -- A clip from a movie, or a short excerpt of a performed play (audio and/or video).
  • Displays of any work (dramatic or non-dramatic) in proportion to what would be used in a traditional classroom. -- A digital copy (PDF or HTML) of a novel, poem, textbook, newspaper story, play text, movie script, music lyrics, etc. in keeping with the amount allowed under the Fair Use doctrine

To meet the TEACH Act requirements, the online course must be restricted to those in the class, the classroom must be moderated by an instructor, and "reasonable" technological measures must be taken to prevent illegal distribution of the materials. Instructors are encouraged to work with SCC's Copyright Officer to make sure course materials meet this requirement. Here are some suggestions to make any online course a "copyright friendly" environment:

  • Whenever possible, link to a resource on the Web rather than copying it.
  • When possible, use journal and magazine articles from the Library's licensed databases and link to them.
  • Audio and video files should be streaming files rather than downloadable ones. (Note: Unfortunately D2L can't restrict downloading these files, so you should use Panopto for audio and video streaming.)
  • Images should be captioned and watermarked to prevent copying.
  • Copyrighted text should be converted to PDF files with Print and Save capabilities disabled to prevent unauthorized duplication.
  • If you are using copied material beyond one semester, you should get permission from the copyright owner. The Copyright Officer can assist you with this process.

Copyrighted content in this section is pulled from Washburn University's Copyright web site <>.

Fair use

Although the TEACH Act covers many uses you might have for the online classroom, the "fair use" guidelines should always be considered when you are looking at using copyrighted material to support your class.

In recent years, judges have turned decisively to the framework of "transformativeness" when evaluating fair use cases. Two key analytical questions have emerged from the case law as core guiding principles for fair use reasoning:

  1. Did the use "transform" the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a broadly beneficial purpose different from that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value of the original?
  2. Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?

Source: Association of Research Libraries, Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries(2012), p.8.

As explained in the Code,

"These two questions effectively collapse the 'four factors.' The first addresses the first two factors, and the second rephrases the third factor. Both key questions touch on the so-called 'fourth factor,' whether the use will cause excessive economic harm to the copyright owner. If the answers to these questions are 'yes,' a court is likely to find a use fair—even if the work is used in its entirety."

Relying on transformativeness creates more certainty around fair use and removes some of the grey areas around the traditional four-factor analysis. A use does not have to be transformative to be fair, but transformative uses are almost certainly fair.

Furthermore, the concept of transformativeness is easier for many people to understand and apply. That is why we rely on transformativeness for most of the examples in this guide.

Creative Commons License
Content on this section is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License from the University of Rhode Island University Libraries and may have been modified to follow SCC practices.