As the author of an online course, your course content may include text, music, graphics, illustrations, articles, photographs, etc. Some of the content you wish to use may be protected by copyright law. Therefore, you need to be familiar with copyright and fair use laws. Faculty intellectual property rights of course materials are governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between UFF and UCF Board of Trustees.

UCF’s Use of Copyrighted Materials policy (2-103.2) is located on General Counsel’s website.

What is Copyrighted Material?

Once a work is in a tangible form, it is considered copyrighted. The Copyright Act states that works of copyright ownership include the following:

  • Novels
  • Nonfiction prose
  • Poetry
  • Newspaper and newspaper articles
  • Magazine and magazine articles
  • Computer software
  • Software manuals
  • Training manuals
  • Manuals
  • Catalogs
  • Brochures
  • Ads (text)
  • Compilations such as business directories
  • Musical works: Songs, advertising jingles, and instrumentals
  • Dramatic works: Plays, operas, and skits
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works: Ballets, modern dance, jazz dance, and mime works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works: Photographs, posters, maps, paintings, drawings, graphic art, display ads, cartoon strips and cartoon characters, stuffed animals, statues, paintings, and works of fine art
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works: Movies, documentaries, travelogues, training films and videos, television shows, television ads, and interactive multimedia works
  • Sound recordings: Recordings of music, sounds, or words

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, you must assume all materials found on the Internet are copyrighted even though it may not include a copyright notice. For this reason, you should not include anything found on the Internet without first getting permission from the copyright holder.

Always Ask the Original Copyright Owner

The copyright holder may not be the person displaying the work on their Web site! As a general rule: if you want to use it, ask permission!

When you include any content in an online course, you are performing two actions:

  1. Converting the material into a digital format, (creating a derivative work) and
  2. Distributing the digital derivative work via the Internet

These two rights belong to the copyright owner only. If you want to display, perform, or distribute something copyrighted, the safest course is to obtain permission (in writing) from the owner. Obtaining permission may entail paying a fee for use of a work.

When it is not possible to obtain permission, do not use any copyrighted materials unless the use of that portion of the work weighs heavily in favor of the Fair Use Doctrine or other recognized guidelines.

Send this copyright permission letter (below) to the copyright holder. It does not need to be submitted to UCF. Keep it with your records.

Model Copyright Permission Letter [16KB; docx]
Model Copyright Permission Letter [4KB; rtf]
Model Copyright Permission Letter [4KB; txt]

Fair Use

The Fair Use doctrine is a provision of copyright law designed to allow the limited use of copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner. It was developed with education in mind and is specifically applicable to teaching, research, scholarship, comment, criticism, or news reporting in face-to-face situations. When specific guidelines are not provided in the law, the general concept of Fair Use comes into play. For the proper use of copyrighted works, refer to the general law of fair use or the applicable statute that applies to distance education and educational situations, Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act. This statute has recently been revised by the TEACH Act.

When Does Fair Use Apply?

The following specific factors must be considered in each instance to determine if Fair Use applies.

  1. Purpose must be for non-profit, educational use
  2. Nature of the material used (factual vs. fictional)
  3. Amount of material used (the percentage of a work used in relation to the whole)
  4. Effect on the current market as well as the future, potential market, or value of the work

Each of the four factors must be applied and weighed together to make a case for Fair Use.

The Fair Use statute is ambiguous by design. Each of the above four factors must be considered in light of copyrighted work to help reach a responsible conclusion about Fair Use. Even though the Four Factor Use Test is codified in Section 107, Title 17, U.S.C (Copyright Act), it does not provide all the guidance that might be necessary in properly applying the concept of Fair Use. Some of the explanations/elaborations on Fair Use will help in providing additional guidance.


Mager, R.F. (1984) Preparing Instructional Objectives (2nd ED). Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Company.