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Home » Faculty/Staff » Teaching Online » Copyright




STOP! Before reading further take the CopyRight Quiz from Sacramento State.

"Is all the material I did not produce myself illegal in my online course?" Well, actually anything that has been saved (to disk, to recorder, to print - including wikis, blogs, navigation buttons) is protected by copyright laws - material does not need a registered copyright. Even sites that require a login with password (as with our Bb courses) need to follow copyright laws. And this copyright policy is worldwide. If you do not have permissions, you need to know the guidelines. But then, this issue is complex, changing, and a bit vague with no absolutely clear answers. And, the good news is that there have been some recent decisions that give educators a bit more license and freedom. You might want to view the "Copyright Primer."

Here is a summary of the main accepted points.

Public Domain:

If something was published before 1923, it is generally free to use. Here is an example: Darwin's Origin of Species. Beyond this rule, it gets complex.

Fair Use:

This policy is designed to allow such activities as teaching, reporting news, critiquing, and researching a bit more flexibility and leeway. Material still must be acquired legally - not "off the air" or include material with "exclusionary licensing." And, the material must used on a secure network - not for the world to download.

There are four main criteria for legal use by faculty or students:

  1. Use for non-profit, educational purposes (non-commercial)
  2. Content must be factual, nonfiction - for printed work, video is more restricted
  3. Can only include a small percentage of the work:
    • text: 10% or 1,000 words (whichever is less)
    • video: 10% or 3 minutes (whichever is less)
  4. Use does not lessen the financial value of the original work (password protected sites seem to satisfy this)
  5. Use for only 2 years and only two copies (such as Web and hard disk)

The TEACH Act expanded these right somewhat for educators.

So what does all this practically mean for online teachers (and students):

  • Printed Material: can only be for a short time until legitimate permission can be obtained (not over two semesters)
  • Video: can use purchased DVDs/tapes (including "for home use") - but if recorded off-the-air and it is not a cable-only program, can only use for 10 days
  • Graphics: complex - generally, only a few textbook pictures can be used
  • Take a look at To Copy or Not to Copy

What if you want more than this? Here are some options:

  1. Get a license for the class. A fee will then be charged to students. One can seek permission by email (
  2. You can link to sites that have the information you want (there are great sites out there)
  3. The library can obtain links to various articles in their database and these can be posted to Bb
  4. Use publisher content (which can include videos, textbook art, InfoTrac, etc.) - a fee is usually charged to students
  5. Ask the Cuyamaca library to obtain permission (or write a letter yourself to the author)

Ownership of Your Course

You have created an online course? Do you own it or does the college own it ("intellectual property rights")? Can you teach your course at other institutions (non-exclusive clause)? Usually, the college owns the course, but districts have different policies and "the course" can be different than "course content." Ask Zoe or an administrator for a clearer answer to your specific situation (see sidebar interview). You can always protect your own work from being copied by others by using PDF (Acrobat security options) and most streaming video is protected from download. Regarding using your Bb course at other colleges, this question is moot as each course must be recreated at each college (in Bb which is copyrighted) and then your own (protected?) materials are added to these Bb templates.

Last Updated: 03/17/2020
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  • Cuyamaca
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