Copyright Online FAQ

What effect does working in the online environment have on copyright and fair use?

Use online often permits wide, effortless dissemination that supports new efficiencies for instructors and scholars but may also threaten rightholders' control over their works. For this reason use online may limit fair use claims and foreclose some copyright exceptions. There are still many ways to lawfully use works online even without permission, but users would be wise to recognize the challenges as well as the opportunities of this type of use.

If I find something online can I assume there's no copyright?

No. Since copyright does not require registration or any special marks like the (c) and since adding a work to a web page qualifies as "fixation" for copyright protection most work online is under copyright.

Am I allowed to link to something I find online?

Unless you have reason to know that a particular page is infringing you are free to link to anything you find online without worrying about copyright.

If I post something behind password protection - like in Moodle - does that cover all the copyright issues?

No. Password protection is important. It substantially improves a fair use claim and you must use it to qualify for the TEACH Act exception. But password protection alone does not solve all copyright issues. You may still need to make a fair use analysis or seek permission to use many items.

How do the TEACH Act exceptions support my online instruction?

TEACH permits use without permission when you are teaching in the online equivalent of a classroom. You must use technological measure to limit access such as password protection, you must use only as much as you would in a physical classroom, and you may only use "reasonable portions" of dramatic audiovisual works. For help with using TEACH Act, contact the Center

What do you mean by "reasonable portions" of dramatic audiovisual works?

Although the statute does not provide any guidance on this point the legislative history makes it clear that "reasonable" relates to the use being made. In other words, the "reasonable" amount is the amount needed for your instruction in light of the purpose of your class.

Does it matter if the files I use were illegally downloaded or cracked any security to provide more access?

Yes. Most copyright exceptions require legally acquired files and defenses such as fair use are significantly harmed by illegal activity. Similarly, the DMCA makes it a crime to circumvent digital rights management (DRM) software.