Understanding Copyright for Online Learning

“Copyright” is a name for a bundle of rights: the right to make copies, distribute copies, make derivative works (such as a translation or adaptation), and the public performance and/or public display of works.


Creating a Course with an Online Component? Consider the Following:


When considering including written sources in an open, online course please keep the following distinctions in mind:

Public domain vs. copyrighted materials

  • Books and articles explicitly in the public domain may be freely used. Material under copyright requires permissions.
  • Links to other websites: You do not violate any copyrights by linking to articles and sources on other websites. You may, for instance, link to freely available content from papers such as the New York Times. Be careful, however, not to provide multiple links to a single publication for one course. Many publications allow only a limited number of free accesses per individual IP per month. If you only have a few links to a particular publication, it will probably be fine, but with multiples, the students might eventually hit a pay wall. Also be mindful that the links might not be durable or that the content might be withdrawn without notice.


When considering including images in an open, online course, please keep the following distinctions in mind:

  • Fair use—images that are directly analyzed or used for active demonstration or illustration is usually considered fair use.
  • Permissively licensed material—material that Princeton has a license to use, like images in the Bridgeman Education Database or works that have Creative Commons Attributions.
  • Using Copyrighted Material require case by case analysis—images from databases like Getty and AP.
  • Images for Public Use-There are many sources for images for publication and public uses, although only some of them will provide images for free. In many cases, there will be a fee for use of the image and for a high-quality digital file for reproduction.
  • Images for Teaching—In general, images in licensed digital collections and databases accessible through Princeton University Library and other departments can be used for classroom/educational purposes but may not be used in publications or for any commercial purpose.

Other Materials

The use of the following materials may involve license fees, which may or may not be prohibitive:

  • Popular movies, television shows, and songs
  • Cartoons
  • Trademarks
  • Images distributed by commercial agencies like Getty Images and AP Images
  • High ­resolution, whole images to be shown full­ screen or in presentation slides available for download


The Instructor's Right to Material Created Online

The course instructor holds the copyright to the material created specifically for his or her course, including the course videos. See the Policies for the Creation and Use of Online Course Materials for more information intellectual property related to online teaching.