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 Also be mindful that the links might not be durable or that the content might be withdrawn without notice.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:

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 here for more information intellectual property related to online teaching.