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Faculty Resources and Services: Copyright

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Clearance/License Request

Copyright FAQ

Q: I am developing an online course. Under the privileges of Fair Use, what types of curated content am I allowed to embed in my courses?

In order for an item to be used under Fair Use, it must be used for one of the allowed purposes (such as teaching or research), but also has to satisfy ALL of the Fair Use Factors. The factors are not weighed equally – meaning that any one factor can have more weight than the others.

Fair Use factors:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

2. The nature of the copyrighted work

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or the value of, the copyrighted work

Nonprofit is emphasized in the first factor because many view this as an automatic rejection of the argument for fair use in a for-profit institution, like Central Penn. (The Teach Act also restricts itself to nonprofit educational institutions.

As an instructor you must decide if the item you would like to use satisfies all of the factors. Simply acknowledging the source is not a substitute for obtaining permission, and there is no specific measure for how much may be used without permission.

Finding out who holds a copyright and how to contact them may be time consuming. The library can help out with requesting permission for use of a resource and, if necessary, purchase a license through the Copyright Clearance Center.

Q. Can I post the PowerPoint slides that come with my textbook in Blackboard?

A. It depends. You will need to review the publisher's terms as well as any contract that was signed to obtain the content. Usually it is permissible. Occasionally, publishers require students to access this content from the publisher's student site versus the instructor's edition. On other occasions, publishers do not permit re-publishing their PowerPoint slides.

Q. Can I copy and paste information directly from a website into a Blackboard Item and publish it in my course?

A. Yes and No. A website by its nature is open and accessible to everyone so there is an implied consent for people to use it. (Exception: A website that you have to log into does not have that implication).

You may publish a link to a website in Blackboard. You shouldn't copy and paste the content of the website in Blackboard because only the copyright holder has the right to reproduce and distribute their work.

Q. I have a textbook or periodical that I want to share with my students but I don't want to make them buy it. How many pages am I legally allowed to scan or copy and post in Blackboard?

A. None. You may not scan pages of a textbook into Blackboard. To do so violates all four factors of Fair Use. You may request permission from the copyright holder or purchase a license from the Copyright Clearance Center. Another option is to look for similar content in the library's resources, or Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks, or Open Access Journals for sharable content. The library can assist with this, use the requesting permission form.

Q. Can I legally upload digital media that I personally own into Blackboard?

A. Probably not. This is probably governed more by the license agreement that you agreed to when you obtained your media - for example, a 'Terms of Use' agreement. To share this content, you would need to obtain the proper permission.

Q. I found a scanned or PDF copy of a book, journal article, or document online; can I share it?

A. It depends. IF it is supposed to be online (the copyright holder put it there, it is legally available) then, yes, you can share it. If the copy is illegal (for instance a pirated copy of a movie) then you may not share it. 

Q. Can I include images (photos, illustrations, tables, graphs, infographics, etc.) that I find online in my online course? Do I need to ask permission before using?

A. It depends.  You need to determine if the copyright holder has given permission for such use. Sometimes the permission is stated somewhere on the website, but often creators are now using Creative Commons licenses. Dr. Curtis Newbold of Westminster College has published a very informative edugraphic on this topic.

Q. Can I include images of copyrighted material for demonstrative purposes in the videos I create for class?

A. It depends. Assuming there is no license that would definitely allow this, we have to refer to the factors of Fair Use. You will need to weigh that first factor with the rest - what is the image of? How much of the copyrighted material is in the image? Will it affect the market?

An Example that Does Not Fall Under Fair Use:

Displaying a series of copyrighted photographs from a book that are rendered to full scale so there is no need to buy the book.

An Example that likely Does Fall Under Fair Use:

Displaying a photograph from a book to help explain a concept. The student still needs to purchase the book to review additional examples.

Q. I found a handout or activity online from another college; can I use it in my class?

A. No. Handouts or activities may not be used without permission or a license (such as the creator attached a Creative Commons license). In this instance you should be able to contact the creator by using the directory of the college where you found it, and requesting permission to use it. Often the license holder will want attribution.

Q. Can I stream videos from my Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, ... etc. account?

A. No.  This would be dictated by the Terms of Use or Membership Agreement that you conceded to when you opened your account. Typically there is wording that would prohibit use in class. Look for words such as personal or private, non-commercial, non-transferrable, limited license. The license agreement overrides Fair Use arguments. Due to this license restriction Polycom will not allow Netflix to be shown over it [re-distribution].

Unless - Netflix does have some documentaries that have a special grant for a one- time showing in an educational setting (in the classroom). To find out if what you would like to show has this permission go to the "Only On Netflix" section of switch to the All-alphabetical listing, search for your title and click on the title to see the details. See 13th as an example of a Netflix original documentary that has this permission. It still would not be able to be shown over Polycom.

When schools went to remote education with Covid-19, Netflix placed a selection of their documentaries on their YouTube channel that are not required to be shown in a classroom.


Carson, B. (2008). Legally speaking – copyright and for-profit educational institutions. Against the Grain, 20(1). doi: 10.7771/2380-176X.2709

Higher Education Compliance Alliance. (n.d.). Copyright & Fair Use. In Higher Education Compliance Alliance Resources by topic. Retrieved from

Hirtle, P. (2017, January 9). Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States 1 January 2017. Retrieved August 10, 2017 from

Hobbs, R. (2010). Copyright clarity: how fair use supports digital learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. [In the library at 371.358 HOB]

U.S. Copyright Office. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2016, from


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