Copyright and Course Content

Break time between semesters is a great time to review and update course materials. It’s easy to grab images and articles from the web, but, how can we be sure to do so legally?

Here are some guidelines and resources to help ensure you are not breaking any laws when adding images, articles, videos, power points, or other materials to your courses:


Adding images for discussion or adding cartoons to lighten the mood can foster engagement in your class. Before snipping an image from an ad or online newspaper be sure to follow these basic rules:

  1. Cite your sources, just as you would expect your students to. This is a great opportunity to model proper citation style.
  2. If you plan to use multiple images from the same source, check to see if your usage meets the fair use criteria.
  3. If you are unsure whether it is legal to use a specific image try to find a similar one in the public domain. There are great sites, such as Pixabay, where you can freely download and use images.
  4. On January 1, 2019, many, many materials enter the public domain. Check this Smithsonian article for an interesting read about that.


To share research articles or opinion pieces with students follow these guidelines:

  1. The safest way to post an article in your course is to link to the source so that the students can access the content themselves.
  2. A PDF of an article from a database like jstor is also acceptable – remember to add the permalink and cite the source.
  3. Do not add a scanned copy of an article from a magazine or newspaper; locate the original online and link to it. If the article you need is behind a paywall contact the librarians for help – they are an outstanding resource for helping you obtain content legally.


Videos are a great way to bring your subject matter to life. Videos are also one of the most commonly pirated types of content on the web. Follow these tips to avoid legal issues with videos in courses:

  1. YouTube has some great channels for educational videos; Crash Course is one of my favorites. Again, link to the original source. If you are using videos from YouTube you can use Blackboard’s Mashup tool to easily insert them into your course; check the box to allow the YouTube information to show in the course so that your source is cited.  Make sure you select videos that are properly closed-captioned so that all students can access them. Be sure to check the links before expecting the students to access them in case a YouTube channel owner has changed or removed files.
  2. Video subscriptions are available, too. If you would like to have students watch an entire movie you should check with our librarians to find out if the college already has access to the movies you need; if not, they will help you find other avenues.
  3. There are websites, such as Khan Academy and Annenberg Learner, that post videos and other content – check their copyright policies before linking directly to their content. Khan Academy will allow you to link right to a specific video, but for Annenberg Learner you must link to their main page unless you pay for a subscription.
  4. Of course, you can make your own videos. We have resources on campus for you to do that (use our Digital Creation Space), or you can make them on your own. Be sure you have the legal right to use any images you include, cite your sources, and caption the video before adding it to the course (you can do this in your Ensemble library here at GCC; contact the Helpdesk for more information).


PowerPoints, Google Slides, or other presentation creations can be a great way to combine images and text to emphasize specific points and enhance learning. You can either create your own presentations, use publisher materials that may be bundled with the textbook you use in your course, or you may find them online in a site like SlideShare.

There are key points to keep in mind when adding presentations to your course:

  1. Presentations you create yourself:

    1. When creating a presentation try to use a built-in theme. This will alleviate most accessibility issues as long as you do not edit the built-in layout too much. Be sure to do the following:
    2. Give each slide a unique title. If the topic you are discussing requires more than one slide, use names such as “Evolution 1,” “Evolution 2,” “Evolution 3” etc., or “”Bitcoin, 1 of 3,” “Bitcoin, 2 of 3,” “Bitcoin, 3 of 3.” This clarifies the topics for students while maintaining accessible navigation.
    3. Be sure to add alt text to all images you use.
    4. Be sure you are using images that you are legally able to use through copyright permission, fair use, ownership (your own artwork), or public domain.
    5. If you create a narrated, or voice-over, PowerPoint, caption it before adding it to the course. We use Ensemble to store our videos and can easily have captions added via Ensemble – be sure to do it.
  2. Adding publisher PowerPoint presentations:

    1. As long as the publisher materials are bundled with the textbook you are currently using in your course, and that students are purchasing, you can add them. Do not re-use presentations from textbooks you are no longer requiring for the course, especially if you change publishers.
    2. Even publisher materials need to be accessible; check them before you add them.
  3. Presentations you find online:

    1. Be sure to check for copyright and accessibility as you would with a video or image.

Other Materials:

Open Educational Resources (OER) are materials freely available to use in courses. Typically, you can remix, reuse, revise, redistribute, and retain OER materials that you edit for your course provided that you attribute the original creator and abide by any rules stated in the materials’ Creative Commons License. There a lot of OER resources for you to learn more.


Copyright and Fair Use:


Open Educational Resources:




Ensemble Video

Hawkins, Sara F

University of Alaska Southeast