Online Courses

Copyright Guidelines for Online Courses

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 MyWashburn 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 Washburn University faculty and staff 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

Online 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.

The 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 ITS Instructional Media to make sure course materials meet this requirement. Here are some suggestions from Online Education Support to make any online course a "copyright friendly" environment:

  • Whenever possible, link to a resource on the Web rather than copying it.
  • Audio and video files should be streaming files rather than downloadable ones.
  • 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.

Take a Copyright Quiz!

In this quiz you will be asked a series of 5 True or False questions.

Copyright Quiz on Online Courses

Washburn University Resources

Copyright Primer for Online Classes (Revised and Updated for the TEACH Act)

TEACH Act Scenarios

Additional Resources

TEACH Act Toolkit