Distance Learning

Distance education course content often incorporates previously published images, text, and video (that is, copyrighted content usually owned or controlled by somebody else). The remote student experience is vastly enriched and enhanced by these visual and audio resources. Use of these materials in distance learning courses was made possible by passage of the TEACH (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization) Act, see 17U.S.C.§110(2).

Basically, educators may use portions of copyrighted works without permission from the copyright holder and without accusation of copyright infringement for the purpose of teaching and learning (see Fair Use). Content made available and distributed online, however, is subject to more restrictive copyright rules than content presented in traditional face-to-face instruction. For example, given current law, you may show a complete movie to your students during a face-to-face class but you would not necessarily have that option in an online or DE course, unless you received permission from the copyright holder or a license was purchased.

Do not assume content on the Web is free to use for your educational purpose. Even if there is no clear indication who owns a work, there is less risk of legal repercussions, for you and the University, to assume the work is owned by somebody. If you believe your use of a work is a fair use, as defined in 17U.S.C.§107, complete the University’s Fair Use Evaluation and keep it in your records for three years.

Here are some general guidelines to consider when selecting content for a distance education course, in order of priority:

  • Select public domain or Creative Commons licensed material (see below)
  • Select images or videos from content University Libraries subscribes to, that is, licensed for use in distance education courses
  • As a last resort, select content available through commercial vendors and licensed for use in distance education courses. (This content will probably require payment.)

As you begin designing your distance learning class, consider meeting at the outset with the Distance Education Librarian, your Liaison Librarian, and/or the University’s Copyright Officer. These individuals will assist you in locating digital content you would like to incorporate into your DE course, identifying the copyright status of a work, and/or securing copyright permissions for materials. Contact with these Professional Faculty members at the outset of your course design will minimize potential challenges, such as availability, associated with use of in-copyright content.

Public Domain and Creative Commons Licensed Content

To find digital content for distance education courses, first explore public domain and Creative Commons licensed works. This content does not require permissions to be secured before using it for a long period of time, such as in a DE course.

Material in the “public domain” is free to use for any purpose—commercial or non-commercial. The item is no longer or never was protected by copyright. The work may be copied, distributed, re-mixed, performed, or have derivative works made from it, without the permission of the copyright owner because those rights belong to no one. However, appropriate credit must (and should) be associated with this third-party content.

Some websites containing public domain content for re-use include:

Public Domain Sherpa http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/
Smithsonian Institution Research Information Service http://www.siris.si.edu/
NASA http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/
NOAA http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/
Flickr: Public Domain http://www.flickr.com/groups/publicdomain/
Image Collections & Online Art http://www.umich.edu/~motherha/images.html

Also see these library Infoguides, among others listed in the column to the near right, for potential sources of multimedia content and assistance: e-Images, Distance Education Services to Faculty, Distance Education Services to Students.

Creative Commons   

An author may choose to publish his/her work online using a Creative Commons (CC) license, which lets users know exactly what they can and can’t do with that content. The author retains the copyright and the license specifies the terms of use.

There are six possible CC license combinations, all of which require proper attribution to the copyright holder. Different types of use are possible, depending on the license selected. See http://creativecommons.org/ for a description of each type of license.

Search for CC licensed content from the organization website or see these examples:

Flickr: The Commons (institutional collections) http://www.flickr.com/commons/
Flickr: Creative Commons (advanced search option) http://www.flickr.com/

If you search directly from the CC website using broad terms like “music,” “images,” or “video,” you will be lead to different sites that aggregate CC content of that type. For example, by searching for “images” http://search.creativecommons.org/?q=images, you will be linked to a page that allows you to explore various sites like SpinXpress, Wikimedia Commons, or blip.tv.