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Copyright Guidelines

Technologies employed in online learning environments offer unique opportunities to incorporate a wide variety of rich media types. However, these opportunities also make it easy to violate copyright law and infringe upon the rights reserved by copyright holders.

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was the product of discussion and negotiation among academic institutions, publishers, library organizations, and Congress, and it specifies specific exceptions for the use of copyrighted works in online distance education courses offered by accredited, non-profit educational institutions; such as Florida International University.

The following guidelines are based on the TEACH Act and other legislation pertaining to copyright, such as the Fair Use Doctrine.  Please note, the guidelines listed do not constitute legal advice and should be used only as general guidelines.

What can an instructor use in an online course without incurring liability or paying license fees?

  1. Original works, as long as copyright has not been transferred to another party.

    Permissible: All original works, i.e., streaming lecture videos featuring the instructor.

    Not permissible: See below items 2-9.

  2. Works in the public domain (most works published in the US before 1923).

    Permissible:  A PDF document of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

    Not permissible:A PDF document of The Hunger Games.

  3. Federal government works created by federal government employees within the scope of their employment.

    Permissible: Reports produced by NASA.

    Not permissible: Reports produced by Toys R Us or any other private company.

  4. Open licensed works, such as works that fall under a Creative Commons license.

    Permissible: Videos from Khan Academy.

    Not permissible: Videos produced by Disney.

  5. Content provided by a publisher of the course textbook.

    Permissible:  If McGraw-Hill includes a DVD with the instructor’s edition of a textbook to be shown in a face-to-face class session in its entirety, that video may also be used in the equivalent online class.

    Not permissible: Scanning entire chapters of a textbook and uploading into Blackboard as a PDF.

  6. Reasonable and limited portions of copyrighted movies and music as long as the audio or video work was not specifically created for online mediated educational use. Use of these works requires access control at the class level (such as Blackboard Learn) and requires reasonable technological efforts to prevent the student from saving, downloading, printing, or otherwise having the work in accessible form after they log out of the class

    Permissible: A scene from The Matrix that demonstrates a certain point in a philosophy class.

    Not permissible: Ripping the entire DVD of The Matrix and loading onto a streaming server without proper permission.

  7. Text, images, photos, graphs, etc. in an amount comparable to what would have ordinarily been shown in a traditional face to face classroom setting.

    Permissible: Using clip art to dress text areas in a course.

    Not permissible: Using entire albums from professional photographers.

  8. Links to content on other sites are typically safe if the host of the content takes reasonable measures to ensure copyright compliance.

    Permissible: Linking all or part of a movie or song on YouTube in a Blackboard course.

    Not permissible:  Linking a full ripped movie without permission in a Blackboard course.

  9. Copyrighted music and movies in their entirety for which permission has been obtained or a license from the copyright holder. See below for a form letter that may be adapted when seeking permission for using copyrighted material.

Sample Draft Email

From: Professor

To: Customer Service Department for Publishing Company

Subject: Request permission to show movie to college class

Good morning,

My name is <<insert professor name>> and I’m an instructor at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. I would like to request permission to show the movie <<insert movie title>> to my online class once a semester. The movie would be placed online via our Learning Management System and only students who are enrolled in the course will have access to view it. The course is <<insert course title>> and I think it would be beneficial to the students to watch the movie because <<insert reason>>. I will not be charging for the showing. Please confirm if you need any further information to receive authorization.

Best regards,


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