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Responsible Use of Digital Media in the Classroom, D2L, and Distance Education QuickPolicy

This Copyright QuickPolicy was created by the SRU Copyright Policy Task Force.
It resides on this site for the benefit of the Slippery Rock University community.

Slippery Rock University supports the responsible use of media in the classroom, on Desire2Learn, and in distance education. This QuickPolicy includes the main points you need to know about the Copyright Law of the United States as it relates to educational media, including the provisions of the TEACH Act.

Disclaimer: SRU assumes no responsibility for violation of laws pertaining to use of media in the classroom, on the learning management system, and in distance education courses, and makes this good faith effort to inform you of your responsibilities in this regard. It is University policy to protect the rights of intellectual property creators and owners.

It is very easy to add media to any digital environment. You can copy digital images into your PowerPoint presentation, embed digital media in D2L, share links to YouTube videos on your website and Facebook page, or design an online course that features digital information in multiple formats. Finding and copying useful media is easy.

BUT ... there can be problems.

  • How do you know you are not violating somebody's copyright?
  • What can happen to you if you do?
  • How do you stay out of trouble?

This QuickPolicy will give you the answers to these and other questions.

Part 1 - What is Copyright?

Visual artists including painters, photographers and graphics designers; filmmakers, musicians, composers, and writers rely on the sale of their creative work to earn a living. There is a system in place to make sure authors get paid and get credit when their intellectual property is used or copied by someone else. Look for the copyright symbol © at the beginning or end of a printed work, or on the title screen of a media production for information about the copyright owner.

Copyright law exists to provide legal protection for the creator and the work.

Examples of copyrightable works include: photographic images, paintings, drawings and sketches; web art, designs for buildings, furniture, interiors, and landscapes; motion pictures, television programs and web videos; recordings of music performances and scores, the spoken word, and any form of text, whether handwritten, printed, or saved as a digital copy.

Something doesn’t have to be published to have copyright protection. When any form of intellectual property is distributed without the permission of the copyright owner, depriving the owner of the opportunity to profit from the reproduction of the work, the law is being broken.

Some forms of expression are not covered by copyright law and are considered to be in the “Public Domain”. These include works that are either ineligible for copyright protection, or with expired copyrights. All works published before 1923,  works of the United States Government, or the underlying idea that is expressed or manifested in the creation of a work are considered to be in the public domain, and thus free of copyright restrictions.

For more copyright basics, see the U.S. Copyright brochure.

Part 2 - The Consequences of Violating the Law

Just because it is possible to include, for example, a portion of a television broadcast you copied off the air in your D2L shell does not mean that it is legal to do so. While technology and the internet make it easily possible to copy and disseminate digital media in a wide range of formats, violations also are easier to detect and to prove. If you are found to have possible copyright violations in your course materials both you and the University could be drawn into lengthy, time-consuming, and costly legal proceedings.  Sections 501 to 515 of the Copyright Law of the United States, under “Chapter 5: Copyright Infringement and Remedies” of the copyright law explain in detail.

Part 3 What is the responsible way to make sure you are following the law when you are planning to use digital materials in the classroom, on D2L, or in distance education?

The Bright Line: Although the Copyright Law of the United States does not specify how much of a particular work may be included in a classroom presentation or posted in a D2L shell, there are guidelines or rules of thumb that always fall within the range of acceptable educational use of copyrighted material.

Permissions: When it is possible to identify the publisher, disseminator, or owner of intellectual property you wish to use in class, it is easy to ask permission to do so.  Columbia University Libraries/Information Services offers clear guidance on seeking permission to use copyrighted material.

Find out what the law says: While the law does not specify how much of a particular protected work may be copied for educational use, the law does state under what conditions a work may be copied and how it may be used in an educational setting. The links at the end of this article provide more information about specific uses covered by the law, and information about applying the provisions of the TEACH Act.

Fair Use: The Copyright Law provides for a “Fair Use Exemption” from the law, depending on four factors relating to the proposed use. The four factors are: the purpose of the proposed use of the copyrighted material; the nature of the work in question; the amount of the work being used; and the effect of the use on the market or potential market for the copyrighted work. See the following link for information about conducting a “Fair Use Analysis” of your proposed use of protected material.

Distance Education and the TEACH Act, American Library Association

Fair Use Evaluator, American Library Association


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Heather Getsay
207 Bailey Library