Can we post this in the course?

Working as an instructional designer in a higher education setting to develop online courses, I find myself answering this question on a pretty regular basis. Deciding what is “Fair Use” can get complicated. What is okay to make available or present in a traditional classroom, may not be okay to post online. The act of adding it to a course website  is distribution and can violate the copyright of a document, presentation, video, recording…. Earlier this year I found a document that helps.

ARL’s Know Your Copy Rights website offers a helpful brochure subtitled: Using works in your teaching – What You Can Do: Tips for faculty and teaching assistants in higher education. This is a user-friendly, six page document that provides the essential information about using material in courses – face-to-face and online. Four factors are outlined to help you make a decision about using copyrighted works without permission. In brief:

  1. Purpose and character of the material – nonprofit, educational use? restricted access to students?
  2. Nature of the copyrighted material – published, out-of-print?
  3. Amount of the material used – part or entire work?
  4. Market effect of the material – is the material for sale?

The last page provides an easy matrix to assist you. I have urged faculty and course developers alike to review this if there are any questions at all. There are many shades of gray here, but the legal-speak is at a bare minimum. The author(s) are trying to assist those of us out here making these kinds of decisions without the benefit of a law degree.

This is a brochure of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), published in 2007. Thank you, ARL, for making this available for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License!

3 thoughts on “Can we post this in the course?

  1. Betsy

    Very useful resource. I didn’t know that government-produced works were not copyrighted.

    One point that is not addressed here that I’ve been wondering about lately:
    What if you use some information or fact from a work? Does that count as a remix of the work? Is it enough to list the work as a “reference,” or does the particular point need to be cited like you would do with an academic paper?


  2. mvenable Post author

    A worthy question, Betsy. While I don’t have a concrete answer, I think it’s important to pursue. Is there a “right” answer or is this part of that gray area of interpreting copyrights, licensing, and online delivery.

    The context of use and any guidance provided by the originator would influence how I cited the work. For example, if I am using the work in an academic setting, then APA it is. The ARL publication I listed in my original post provided me with the following instructions:

    “This brochure is © 2007 Association of
    Research Libraries and is available for your re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License ( This means you are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works under the following conditions:
    • You must attribute the work to the
    Association of Research Libraries.
    • You may not use this work for
    commercial purposes.”

    I have only provided a link to the material, but interpreted this as “distribution” in a way and so felt compelled to mention ARL and the CC license in my original blog post. Perhaps overly cautious?

    Another resource to explore… The University of Texas – Austin offers an online “Copyright Crash Course”: This site also addresses the lack of clarity, especially with content on the Web, but does provide a lot more detail to consider when making decisions about using copyrighted materials. There’s also a lengthy (but interesting) online tutorial and test:



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