Choosing Course Content - multi-media and text-based

I know the importance of making compelling, engaging and often provocative material for educational purposes.  The right music, photo or video can have an immediate and effective impact on your audience, especially if the audience is online and the content is digital.

But there are certain things that you need to keep in mind when working with images, video, and audio in this digital age- copyright.  If you didn't snap it, draw it, sign it, or create it yourself, it doesn’t belong to you. If it’s not 100% original, you need to think about copyright and permissions.

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Basic "rules" to remember for image, audio, and video use:

1. Do the Fair Use Check:
There’s a big “BUT” to the general rule of "no ownership, no use.” Fair use.

The fair use section of the Copyright Act places limitations and exceptions on an owner’s copyright if a person is teaching, researching, commenting or reporting.

Example: An art teacher who wants to show a picture of Mona Lisa for class discussion, unable to purchase the original (not available for purchase and/or too costly) or take her students to the location of the original, can download a picture for use in the face to face classroom for discussion. This would be considered a fair use of the image- use for nonprofit educational purposes.

Courts determine what is considered a "fair use" of copyrighted work, and tend to lean towards educational, non-profit, reasonable amounts, small audience when making determinations.  Using original work in the physical classroom, with a limited audience, as part of a discussion, is the perfect formula for fair use.

Fair use factors Courts review and you need to consider:

  • The purpose and character of the use
  • The nature of the copied work
  • The amount and substantiality of use
  • The effect of use on the work’s value

Guidelines to assist in making fair use determinations:

  • Limit the amount used. Reasonable, limited, educational, scholarly uses of materials weigh toward fair use. Using an amount appropriate to the purpose and tied to critical analysis will weigh toward fair use. For example, fair use would not apply applies to use of entire  books or to entire journal issues.
  • Provide access only to students in one particular class and section. A basic rule in making course materials available to students is to limit access to the enrolled students.
  • Provide access only through the secure password protected learning management system. Limiting use to students through the password protected environment protects mass distribution of the materials. Also, discourage  students from further distribution of course materials beyond the class. This may be accomplished by informing students about copyright law and inserting this notice on the class syllabus and on copies of the course materials: “This material is subject to the copyright law of the United States (Title 17 U.S. Code) and is for the use of students in [Course 101] only. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited.”
  • Avoid using material in a way that substitutes for textbooks or “consumable” workbooks marketed for online education. When use of copyrighted works directly conflicts with an educational market, the use is not considered fair. Please avoid using material to substitute for textbooks or consumable workbooks, and avoid using materials that were produced or marketed as educational products primarily for digital instructional activities.
  • Assess the availability through purchase or licensing. When copyrighted materials are in still in print and being marketed, and/or when a licensing mechanism is available for use of the copyrighted work, the fair use argument is weakened because the use conflicts with a market for the work.
  • Always provide attribution. When reproducing materials for use in the course management system or through E-reserves, please provide a full citation on the copy.

For more on fair use, visit the Fair Use Guide, Click Here

2. Use Creative Commons Material: Creative Commons licenses are public licenses that allow creators to have some control over how their material is used, while still offering it freely to the general public. There are, however, restrictions on the use of creative commons licensed works. You’ll want to review the terms of use for each license. Go to for details on the types of licenses and the terms of use for each.

3. Join a Stock Photo, Video or Music Site: Stock photos, videos, and music are much like creative commons images/ videos/ music, except that you’ll pay for the license. For a list of stock photo sites, video sites, or musical lyrics, just do a simple search and you’ll get dozens of results.  The subscription costs vary per site, so find the one where the cost and number of images/ videos allowed per month meets your needs. Also, please read the terms of use. There may be clear restrictions on how you can use the material you’ve licensed.

4. Use Sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and TED Talks: Youtube, Vimeo and TED talks, for example, have made it very easy to grab a video and use it. When you embed a video from one of those sites into a webpage or power point presentation, you’re going to be pretty safe. Those sites have strict rules regarding copyright that uploaders must adhere to. But, what if you want to use a video or audio clip in your own custom video or audio production?  Here’s where things get more complicated. Taking a video “as is” and using it in a course or web page is different from taking the video and making your own work out of it. While it may be simple to “pull” from the source, you will need to get permission from the copyright holder to rework, rearrange or build upon the existing video and/or audio clip.

5. Visit and Consider Copyright-free Resources: While there seems to be a lot of content that is protected by copyright, there is an increasing number of materials being created for use in education and scholarly research. A growing number of materials can be found through Open Educational Resources, Open Access, and the Public Domain. Also, most government-produced works are not copyright-protected and may be used without prior written permission.

6. Just Ask the Owner for Permission: Many copyright owners will let you use their works to have you use their photo, just as long as you ask first and attribute them properly.

Use of Materials- Traditional and Online- A Comparison


Traditional Use

Online Use


Entire movie, where legal copy of movie is obtained, may be shown in a face-to- face classroom, provided that no fees are charged for entry.

Digitization of a VHS/DVD to upload into a course requires a license from the publisher. Where a video is available for purchase in streaming format through the publisher, it must be obtained via the publisher in this format and with the appropriate license to stream through the LMS. “Reasonable” clips may be shown without permissions (where reasonable is normally defined as 10% or three minutes, whatever is less). The video must be legitimately acquired (a legal copy, not home recording or bootleg).


Using music in a face-to- face classroom is permissible without first requiring consent from the publisher.

If the music is from a public domain and/ or freely exchangeable website, permissions is not needed. Permission, however, is needed when uploading a song from a CD, etc. A “reasonable” clip of the music may be permitted, where “reasonable” is defined as maximum of 30 seconds.


Using images in the classroom, in powerpoint presentations, or simple visual display, is permissible.

To post any image that is copyright-protected online, the Professor or student seeking to share this image in an electronic format, must first ask permission from the copyright holder.

Article/ Book Chapter/ Etc,

Print copies, one per student, may be handed out to students for review.

Digital copies of chapters, articles, etc., require permissions.  Search the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) webpage and the Library’s databases first to see if permissions have already been secured by the University for use in the classroom.  If neither the Academic license with the CCC nor the Library’s database contains the material, permission from the publisher needs to be retained prior to use.

Assignments and Student Projects- video, blogs, posters, etc.

While much of what students do as part of class assignments will be considered fair use or done for educational purposes, there are situations that will require permission when copyrighted material is being used. For instance, if students will be asked to create any assignment that will be shared digitally, outside of the classroom space, and copyright material is being used, permission will be necessary.

student copyright


To learn more contact us now!

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Faculty Learning Lounge, Suite 160

Permission to Use Materials

Academic Technology and Distributed Learning (ATDL) welcomes the use of materials on this Site for personal, non-commercial use. Prior to using the materials, however, we ask that you notify ATDL of your intended use, and provide the appropriate credit line with materials to be used.