Using Copyrighted Materials Online

This guide is designed to assist instructors in selecting and using copyrighted materials in their online classrooms.


Please be advised that any information and/or links provided on this site do not constitute legal advice and are for informational purposes only.  Any person using this site may wish to seek legal advice from a licensed attorney to address any legal questions or concerns.

Copyright and Fair Use

US Copyright law

Copyright Flow ChartCopyright law protects the exclusive rights of a holder to authorize others to copy, create derivative works, distribute, publicly perform, or publicly display a work. Most copyrights expire 120 years after creation. The work is considered in the public domain after that time and free to use. Works created by the federal government are not subject to copyright and are permissible. If faculty wish to use copyrighted material in an online course the use must fall under the provisions of the TEACH Act or be considered "Fair Use". If the use does not meet one of those criteria, faculty must obtain permission (written in most instances).


The TEACH Act (Section 110) of the copyright law outlines provisions for online courses. If the copyright issue does not fall under provisions of the TEACH Act it may still be allowable under "Fair Use". In order to claim use under the TEACH Act, a number of obligations must be met. In order to perform or display works in an online class it must be:

  • used under your supervision
  • part of the class session
  • part of instructional activities
  • directly related to teaching content

Three additional requirements must be met.

  • the online class must be restricted to enrolled students
  • there must be reasonable effort to prevent students from being able to save or print the work
  • there must be a general copyright warning in the course site

Fair Use

"Fair Use" describes the condition where limited use of copyrighted material is allowed without obtaining express permission from the rights holder. There are four factors when determining "fair use" of copyrighted items:

  • the purpose of the use - used to teach or create something new OR used for commercial purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work - fiction OR non-fiction
  • the amount of the work used - small portion OR entire work
  • the effect of the use on the market for the copyrighted work - labeled by the Supreme Court as "the single most important element of fair use"

Additional Material

Step 1 - Determining If Your Use is Fair Use

LibGuide - Copyright and Fair Use: The basics