The 45-Minute Online Copyright Crash Course (Lawyer Figure Sold Separately)

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

Online faculty members, designers, and administrators have little guidance for using copyrighted materials for teaching. This interactive crash-course session from the author of “Training Your Faculty about Copyright When the Lawyer Isn't Looking” offers use-them-tomorrow lessons to keep everyone on the “good side” of copyright law.


Thomas J. Tobin is the Conference Program Chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he identifies trends and themes in the field of distance education; shapes the scope and focus of each year’s conference in collaboration with its advisory board and staff; finds the keynote, spotlight, and featured speakers for the conference; and hosts the conference as the emcee. Before joining UWM, Tobin spent seven years in the Learning and Development arm of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, and then served for five years as the Coordinator of Learning Technologies in the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Tom is also an independent faculty developer and professional consultant in State College, Pennsylvania. He is an internationally-recognized speaker and author on topics related to quality in distance education, especially copyright, evaluation of teaching practice, academic integrity, and accessibility/universal design for learning. Since the advent of online courses in higher education in the late 1990s, Tom’s work has focused on using technology to extend the reach of higher education beyond its traditional audience. He advocates for the educational rights of people with disabilities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Tom serves on the editorial boards of _eLearn Magazine_, _InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching_, the _Journal of Interactive Online Learning_, and the _Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration_. His most recent book is _Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices_ (Wiley, 2015) with Jean Mandernach and Ann H. Taylor. His comic book (yes, comic book) _The Copyright Ninja_ (St. Aubin Comics, 2017) teaches college and university faculty members, support staff, and campus leaders about copyright, fair use, licensing, and permissions. Plus, it has ninjas. _Re-Framing Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education_ (with Kirsten Behling) is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in Fall 2018, and Tom is currently writing _Going Alt-Ac: A Guide to Alternative Academic Careers_ with Katie Linder and Kevin Kelly, expected in early 2019 from Stylus Press. Tom is also proud to represent the United States on a Spring 2018 Fulbright Scholar core grant, under which he will help Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary to develop its first faculty-development program.

Extended Abstract


No issue in online education seems more needed—yet less understood—than working knowledge of copyright and fair use for the design and teaching of online courses. Because of the tangled and often vague nature of the topic, presentations on copyright from distinguished legal scholars (e.g., Enghagen, 2012; Fineberg, 2009, and Sweeney, 2006) can serve to deepen the confusion about what faculty members and designers can and should do regarding the use of content created by others.



Participants should have experience or responsibility for designing, teaching, or evaluating online courses. No specific pre-requisites are required to participate, please be prepared for a hands-on and interactive session.


Problem Statement

Faculty members and administrators often do not have clear guidance regarding the use of copyrighted materials for teaching (Harper, 2007a & 2007b). Session participants will come away with plain-language best practices in these areas. This hands-on session offers an easy-to-apply test for using copyrighted materials, as well as ways to avoid having to invoke copyright at all.

Disclaimer: This session is an overview of various models and methods regarding copyrighted content and ownership of intellectual property. The facilitator is not a legal professional, and no part of this session is intended to constitute legal advice.



This crash-course session is based on recent research that aims to create a set of “rule of thumb” guidelines for faculty members and online developers (Tobin, 2014) to help them to navigate more confidently when selecting and using materials for their online courses.

This session promises a simplified yet deep understanding of how to work with materials created by others in an ethical fashion, so that participants will stay “on the good side of the law” the majority of the time. The session is aimed at faculty members, designers, and administrators in colleges and universities in the United States (17 US Code § 107) and Canada (Canada Code RSC C 42.29).

Participants who teach online courses or who design online content that supports interactions with learners will benefit especially from this session. The session aims not only to teach the core concepts of copyright, but is also a train-the-trainer session designed to give participants the ideas and tools to be able to be “copyright evangelists” when they return to their institutions.


Methodology and Structure

Participants should come prepared to be part of the conversation. Based on real-life examples from session participants and recent court cases (e.g., Decherney, 2013; Keengew & Georgina, 2013 Band, 2012) we will answer some core questions about copyright for online design and teaching:

  • What is a Copy?
  • What Is and Isn’t Copyrighted
  • Fair Use Criteria (PANE)
  • Creative Commons & Other Special-Rights Licenses
  • Seeking Permission Beyond Fair Use
  • When Copyright Doesn’t Even Apply

This interactive session is designed to help attendees to learn rule-of-thumb ways to define fair use of copyrighted content and find alternative means of providing access to copyrighted content.

A collection of digital resources, including a one-page copyright decision-making sheet, is provided to participants.



Participants in this workshop will be able to

  • define and apply the core principles of fair use / fair dealing (Ghosh et al., 2007).
  • apply heuristics to define fair use of copyrighted content (Center for Media and Social Impact, 2014).
  • implement alternative means of providing access to copyrighted content.
  • determine when copyright applies and does not apply (Cheverie, 2011) for various online-design scenarios.
  • design interactions for online courses that respect copyright (US Copyright Office, 2012), licenses (Creative Commons, 2013), and permission agreements (Columbia University, 2010).
  • contribute to the development of copyright policies for their own institutions (Kromrey, 2005).

Participants will learn how to use copyrighted materials for online teaching purposes, as well as how to work around copyright by using permissions, licenses, copyright-free resources, and alternative-access methods.

In addition, this session provides an overview of the origins of the concept of copyright, the change in the concept of fair use / fair dealing from a right to a legal defense (House of Representatives, 1976), and laws that helped to close loopholes and clarify the boundaries of fair use (UNC, 2003; Russell, 2002; US Copyright Office, 1998).



17 US Code § 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. Copyright Law of the United States of America.

Band, J. (2012). The impact of substantial compliance with copyright exceptions on fair use. Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA, 59(3): 453-475.

Canada Code RSC C 42.29 (1985, as amended). Fair dealing. Copyright Act: Justice Laws Web Site.

Center for Media and Social Impact. (2014). Fair Use. American University School of Communication.

Cheverie, J. (2011). UCLA streaming video case dismissed. EDUCAUSE blogs.

Columbia University. (2010). Model Letter: Including Work in Course Management System.

Creative Commons. (2013). History.

Decherney, P. (2013). Communicating fair use: Norms, myth, and the avant-garde. Law and Literature, 25(1): 50-64.

Enghagen, L. K. (2012). Academic institutions go “three for three” in copyright and fair use lawsuits. Distance Education Report, 16(22): 5.

Fineberg, T. (2009). Copyright and course management systems: Educational use of copyrighted materials in the United States and the United Kingdom. Libri, 59(4): 238-247.

Ghosh, S., Gruner, R., Kesan, J. P., and Reis, R. I. (2007). The function of fair use. Intellectual Property: Private Rights, the Public Interest, and the Regulation of Creative Activity. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West: 174-176.

Harper, G. K. (2007a). Copyright Crash Course: The TEACH Act. University of Texas Libraries.

Harper, G. K. (2007b). Copyright Crash Course: University Administrative Interests in Copyright. University of Texas Libraries.

H.R. Report No. 94-1476 (1976). USCCAN, pp. 65-74.

Keengwe, J. and Georgina, D. (2013). Supporting digital natives to learn effectively with technology tools. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education (IJICTE), 9(1): 51-59.

Kromrey, J. (2005). Intellectual property and online courses: policies at major research universities. National Educational Computing Conference. Philadelphia, PA: June 27-30.

Russell, C. (2002). New Copyright Exemptions for Distance Educators: The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act. Syracuse: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology.

Sweeney, P. C. (2006). Faculty, copyright law, and online course materials. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration (OJDLA), 9(1).

Tobin, T. (2014). Training your faculty about copyright when the lawyer isn’t looking. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration (OJDLA), 17(2).

UNC Charlotte J. Murray Atkinson Library. (2003). The Original TEACH Act Toolkit. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

U.S. Copyright Office. (1998). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998: Summary.

U.S. Copyright Office. (2012). Factsheet on Fair Use. FL-102.