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Use of Instructional Material in Online Courses

As you select instructional materials for your online class, consider using materials with few or no copyright restrictions: your own works, public domain works, and open access works.

Detailed Chart

This Use of Instructional Materials Chart provides information on types of materials, how to find them, and how they may be used in online classes, both for classes limited to GU students and for courses that reach beyond the Georgetown community.

The information below provides an overview of how to use copyrighted materials in an online class. To document copyright information for your online course materials, keep a spreadsheet with citation and copyright/permissions information.

Material Created by Georgetown Faculty and Staff

Ownership of original materials created for online classes, including lecture recordings, slides, notes, animations, and images is covered by University policies on intellectual property, as described in the Faculty Handbook (Section 8 covers Copyright and Traditional Scholarship; Section 9 covers Copyright and Other Intellectual Property). 

If you have photographs or recordings in which guest lecturers, interviewees, students, or others appear, you should obtain releases from those contributors so their image, audio, or video may be made available online.

Material Created by Others

Many third-party instructional materials are protected by copyright. Before using such materials, you should evaluate their copyright status to determine whether or not your use is permissible.

To maximize your ability to use materials in your online course, choose those with few or no copyright restrictions:

  • Public Domain: The public domain contains works that are no longer protected by copyright and those that were never protected by copyright – you may use these works without any restrictions. Works published before 1923 and works of the U.S. government are in the public domain. Read more about the public domain.
  • Open Access: Open access materials are free of some or all restrictions on their use, as long as you provide appropriate attribution to the creator of the work. When you use open access materials, you need to check that your particular use is allowed – if so, no license fees or permission requests are necessary. Read more about open access and Creative Commons.
  • Linkable: If a work is freely available on the Internet, but you do not have permission to download it, you can link to it instead.

To use copyrighted materials that do not fall into the above categories, you may consider the following:

  • Fair Use: Fair use permits the limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the rights holders. To determine whether a use is fair, four factors must be evaluated for each item to be used. Fair use is a flexible right that allows portions of any copyrighted material to be used; however, the analysis is highly subjective, and users and copyright holders sometimes disagree on whether a particular use is fair. Read more about fair use.
  • Permission: If you need to use materials that do not fall into any of the above categories, you can request permission from the copyright holder. While permission is often granted for academic uses, the permissions process can be slow, and there is no guarantee that permission will be granted. If permission is granted, a license fee may be required. Read more about requesting permission

The Fair Use Factors

Purpose and character of your use. Using material in a non-commercial environment and for a nonprofit educational purpose, such as criticism and commentary, is generally favored under the fair use analysis. Fair use is most likely to apply if your use of the work is also transformative. For example, using a feature film for educational purposes, such as commentary and criticism, will strengthen your fair use argument since that use differs from the original purpose of the film - entertainment. Showing a film produced for the educational market, however, is unlikely to be transformative use since viewing by students is the primary purpose of the film.

Nature of the work. In general, using highly creative works will weaken the fair use argument.

Amount used. There is no easy answer to the question of how much of a work can be used relying on fair use. Due to that uncertainty, each work should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis looking closely at what is being used, how it is being used, and the potential risk in asserting fair use rights. For fair use to apply, the amount taken should be only what is need to illustrate your point; the less that is used, the stronger the argument in favor of fair use.

Effect on the market. To minimize the effect on the market, access to the course materials for online classes for Georgetown students will be restricted to only those students registered for your course and will be available for only a limited period of time. The potential impact on the market will be greater for courses that are open to students beyond the Georgetown community.

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