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Online Teaching and Course Management Systems

Online teaching and learning falls under the broad category of "educational multimedia" as addressed by a Congressional subcommittee on intellectual property in 1996. The subcommittee’s report, called the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia, is not law, but provides commonly accepted standards for educational institutions and the courts.

The Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia cover educational material created by faculty as part of curriculum-based instruction, or by students as part of an assignment, whether face-to-face, self-directed study, or at a distance. The Guidelines also provide provisions for inclusion of copyrighted multimedia as part of conference presentations or professional portfolios. Limitations are based on time, portion, copying, and distribution.

According to these Guidelines, instructors should limit the use of the educational multimedia projects containing copyrighted material to a period of two years after the first instructional use. However, the limitations on copying may alter this time period.

Guidance for the amount of material that can be copied, performed, displayed (taken from the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia).

  • Motion media (e.g., video): Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less.
  • Text material: Up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less.
  • Music, Lyrics, Music Video: Up to 10%, but no more than 30 seconds.
  • Illustrations, Photographs No more than 5 images from an artist/photographer, or no more than 10% or 15 works from a published collective work.
  • Numerical Data Sets (e.g. databases): Up to 10% or 2500 fields, whichever is less.

The Guidelines also recommend "that the technology prevents the making of copies of copyrighted material," meaning that every effort should be made to prevent the consumer of the content from making more copies. This is not possible to achieve via the Web. In the absence of technology that limits copying, the Guidelines say that the students should be told not to make copies, and, more importantly, that the material should only be available for 15 days. After that 15-day period, the material could be put on reserve for up to two years. After the two-year period, permission from the copyright holder would be required.

The copying and distribution limitations are most restrictive regarding remote instruction (distance learning). Distribution must be limited to students enrolled in the course and there must be "technological limitations on access to the network and educational multimedia project (such as password or PIN)."

In practical terms, to comply with the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia when using a course management system such as Moodle or Blackboard, you could:

  1. Make sure the portions of copyrighted material you are using in a course meet the standards of the Guidelines.
  2. Ensure copyrighted material reside in a secured section of the course site so that copyrighted materials are available only to students enrolled in the course, not guests or observers.
  3. Because the course sites are Web-based, it is not possible to prevent copies from being made. In those cases instructors can make copyrighted material available for no more than a 15-day period and provide a warning in the description of the content that notifies students that copying and redistributing these materials is a breach of copyright law.
  • limit access to copyrighted works to students currently enrolled in the class;
  • limit access only for the time needed to complete the class session or course;
  • inform instructors, students, and staff of copyright laws and policies;
  • prevent further copying or redistribution of copyrighted works; and not interfere with copy protection mechanisms