Posting copyrighted materials online

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Using the web to make instructional materials available to students can raise many copyright issues. The following information addresses issues surrounding the copying, posting, and other uses of copyrighted works, such as articles, book chapters, sound recordings, and visual images. This information will introduce users of online course management systems to the options for making materials available while staying within the law.

Note: The information in this document comes from the Copyright Management Center at IUPUI. For more information, see the center's website at:

Alternatives under the law

Current copyright law gives legal protection to nearly all readings, text, images, audiovisual recordings, and other materials that instructors or students might want to use, even if the original works do not include any statement about copyright. Copying and posting copyrighted works may in turn violate the legal rights of copyright owners. Nevertheless, instructors have several alternatives under the law as they make copyrighted works available online. These alternatives include:

Linking to databases and the web

Simple linking to materials that are available on the Internet or in databases is often feasible, efficient, and legally sound, without raising significant copyright questions. University libraries provide access to numerous full-text databases, and librarians often have negotiated licenses that permit linking, printing, and other necessary uses in the educational setting. University librarians can help instructors locate materials and make links.

Permission to post materials

Permission from the copyright owner is an important option for posting materials online. Instructors are responsible for securing any needed permission to place materials online.

Works in the public domain

The copyrights in many early works have expired, leaving them without restrictions on copying, uploading, and many other uses. Most notably, works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Copyrights on more recent works may also have expired, but the law requires individual scrutiny of each work. In addition, broad categories of works, such as works originally created by the US federal government, have no copyright protection at any time. For more information about the public domain, see IU School of Law Professor Kenneth D. Crews' white paper at:

Fair use and other statutory exceptions

Copyright law includes many statutory exceptions to the rights of owners, and fair use is the best known and the most important for education. Fair use allows instructors to make limited use of copyrighted works without permission. Fair use is important for meeting educational needs, and it can be essential when permission is not forthcoming and the materials are not available by other means.

Alternatives for information delivery

Instructors may want to explore various alternatives for information delivery, including some familiar options:

Ownership of new works

Additional copyright issues surround the ownership of rights to new works (including teaching materials and student projects) posted for distribution online. Those issues are outside the scope of this document.

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Last modified on November 07, 2005.