13 Copyright FAQs

In many cases you will want to include course content (e.g., articles, book chapters, images, or videos) that someone else created and published. This page provides answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding copyright and what can and cannot be reused in an online course.

Can I link to other Web resources without copyright concerns?

Yes. Linking to other Web resources and pages is not a copyright infringement, because your hyperlink is taking learners to the material source. In fact, from a copyright perspective, linking to legally-posted content in its original location is the safest option.

Can I embed media from streaming sites without copyright concerns?

Yes. Embedding media from social streaming sites such as Vimeo, YouTube, and Soundcloud is not affected by copyright, because the embedded media points to the material source. Simply put, if you are able to embed the media (because a site provides the embed code), you are allowed to do so. Including a citation with embedded media is a recommended academic practice but is not technically necessary.

What if there is no copyright symbol on the work?

While laws vary from country to country, the U.S. has not required formal copyright markings since 1978. If there is no indication of copyright on published content, it is safest to assume full copyright.

What are public domain works?

Works in the public domain are not protected by intellectual property laws and are free for anyone to use without permission. These are typically works published before 1923, those with expired copyrights, or those funded and published by the U.S. government.

It is important to verify that the work you wish to use is truly in the public domain. The age of a work is not a guarantee of its public domain status, and in some cases, while the work itself may be in the public domain, the online

digital version may not be. There are many websites that publish lists of U.S. works in the public domain (see Additional resources, below). While citing sources is always good academic practice, it is not technically necessary for public domain works.

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons is a licensing option that allows creators to customize the copyright of their works to support free use under specific conditions, such as meeting the requirement for author attribution or noncommercial use. This document carries a CC license located in the footer. Learn more about Creative Commons at creativecommons.org.

There are many online collections that contain free, CC-licensed images, audio files, and videos. Your instructional designers can point you to the Web repositories that best suit your needs. As a starting point, however, the Creative Commons CC search page and Western Washington University open resources page are both very helpful.

What is fair use?

Fair use involves reproducing copyrighted works for limited, educational purposes. The University of Chicago Copyright Information Center has developed the following four-factor test for identifying fair use:

  • Purpose: Sampled materials are used to promote specific educational goals or objectives and should be provided to learners with no direct cost.
  • Nature: Only portions relevant to the educational objectives are reproduced; highly creative works should not be substantially excerpted; consumable copies—for example, downloadable files—should not be distributed.
  • Amount: The size or length of the excerpt should directly relate to the educational objective.
  • Effect: Sampled materials should include a citation, and the instructor should consider whether their copying of the work significantly impacts its overall market or sale.

The Fair Use Evaluator can also help you determine whether your use of outside content meets fair use criteria.

Additional resources


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