How do I avoid copyright infringement in my online class?

Copyright and Fair Use - what you need to know


Copyright laws are a set of legal rights granted to an author or creator of an original work. Generally speaking, copyright is the lawful right of an author, artist, composer, or other creator to control the use of his or her work by others. A copyrighted work may not be duplicated, disseminated, or appropriated by others without the creator's permission. If you reproduce, republish or redistribute something produced by someone else without the copyright holder’s permission, there’s a good chance that you are violating copyright laws.

Fair Use

Fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law) is an exception to the rights of copyright owners. Under certain circumstances, copyrighted works may be used without obtaining specific permission from the author. Permission for an educator to reproduce copyrighted works falls under the guidelines set forth under fair use. There are four factors to consider to determine whether fair use applies 1) the purpose of the use; 2) the nature of the work used; 3) the amount and substantiality of the work used; and 4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work used.

Video: Copyright and Fair Use  This video defines what is copyright and fair use.


  • Faculty, staff, and students are liable for their actions.
  • Institutions may be liable for their faculty and staff’s infringements.
  • Institutions may be liable if:
    •     Faculty’s online courses contain copyright infringements.
    •     Students create infringing projects.
    •     Faculty assigns infringing activities.
    •     Faculty and staff design infringing official webpages.
    •     Faculty and staff house infringing content on institutional servers.
    •     Faculty may be liable for their students' infringements.

Penalties include:

  • $150,000 per act of willful infringement: Willful infringement is when someone has been warned to stop and they continue to violate.
  • $750 to $30,000 per act of innocent infringement: Innocent infringement is when someone has unwittingly violated another's copyright.

To determine if something falls under copyright use this Matrix from the Association of Libraries 

Educators should adhere to the portion limitations established within the Fair Use Guidelines. However, it is important to remember that these are guidelines only. For example, even though up to 250 words of a poem may be used, if the portion used constitutes a "substantial" part of the whole, then fair use may not be a defense. Fair use guidelines are as follows:

To determine if something falls under fair use, follow this resource from Texas A&M University Libraries.

What are Texas A&M's policies on intellectual property?

Intellectual property refers to a work or inventions, such as literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images, to which one had rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, and trademark.

17.01Texas A&M University System Policies & Regulations  – Section 17.01 provides a detailed description about Texas A&M University Systems policies and regulation on Intellectual Property Management and Commercialization. 

Cite Instructional material ( QM 4.3) 

Instructional materials and other resources used in the course needs to be clearly identified and appropriately cited. For example, text, images, graphic materials, tables, videos, audios, websites, and other forms of multimedia used should be appropriately cited.

The citation should include the following: the author or owner name, date of publication, resource title, if supplied, and URL or source

  • Citing Online  Photograph  ​

The citation should include the following:  The author or owner name, date of publication, resource title, if supplied, and URL or source

Hoflehner Josef, 2005,  Liquid Wall.
  • Citing Online Video ​         

The citation should include the following:  The author or owner name, date of publication, resource title, if supplied, and URL or source

Andrews, 2008, Deaf Ninja.


Tools and Resources


Fair Use

  • Fair Use in the classroom from Texas A&M University’s  Internet Media Services presents guidelines on educational copying limits on film, text, poetry, music, photos, collected work, and databases agreed upon by a group of institutions, publishers, authors, and educator.
  • Fair Use and Copyright for Online Education  from the University of Rhode Island contains information on copyright concerns regarding online instruction and offers guidance in applying fair use when appropriate.
  • Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video from the Center for Media and Social Impact  presents a wealth of resources and links to code of best practices in Fair Use.
  • Managing Fair Use on Campus: The Online Academic Administrator's Dilemma by Michael R. Wiggins discusses the dilemma faculty and students face while using intellectual property, such as texts, videos, and scholarly articles and the preventative measures to avoid improper uses of intellectual property.
  • Posting Course Materials Online from Columbia University Libraries explains under what circumstances instructional materials may be posted in a learning management system (LMS)
  • Fair Use Teaching Tools from the Center for Social Media and Social Impact provides a set of teaching tools for professors who are interested in teaching their students about fair use. The tools includes powerpoints, lectures, and examples of discussion forums, teaching videos, assignments and grading rubrics.
  • Can I close caption copyrighted video? from the Center for Media and Social Impact   answers the dilemma faculty often face when determining if it is okay to close caption copyrighted video to meet accessibility standards.
  • Code of Best Practices in Fair Use of Online Video from the Center for Media and Social Impact discusses best practices in fair use for different content and media and how to make their fair use decisions.