For live classroom teaching, faculty members generally create course content relying on the face-to-face teaching exception of copyright law. For online public distribution of course content, the primary and limited tool to use third-party copyrighted material without permission is the fair use doctrine of copyright law. To avoid copyright concerns, we ask Stanford faculty creating open online courses to follow these guidelines with regard to use of third-party content in materials. Third party content means any content that is not self-created, such as graphs, charts, artwork, photos, screenshots, clip art, trademarks, videos and music.
Each course goes through a copyright clearance process prior to being released. Faculty need to provide a marked set of slides for the entire course indicating the source of each image and whether the image is 1) in the public domain; 2) in copyright and used with permission (through direct permission or a license); or 3) in copyright and used under the fair use doctrine.
We have prioritized the following options for the use of images and videos in presentations:
Make the content yourself. Rather than relying on an existing graph or chart, make an image yourself or use a photo that you have taken. It is acceptable to pull facts from copyrighted material. For example, while a bar graph showing silhouettes of the world’s tallest buildings is subject to copyright protection, the heights, dates of construction and location of the buildings are not subject to copyright protection. (Note: Do not copy someone else’s chart, as that is simply making a derivative work and the copyright stays with the original author.)
Get the content from a colleague or friend, and get permission to use it in your course. Make sure the colleague understands the scope of use you will be making of the image and make sure that your friend owns copyright (has not given it away to a journal or conference) and has the authority to give you the permission you need.
Get the content from a website offering public domain, Creative Commons or similarly licensed materials, and make sure that the images selected may be used for the intended purpose, generally including for-profit purposes. An example of an acceptable license is CC-CY, Creative Commons Attribution License (in which you must provide attribution to the author).
- Creative Commons Sourced Material, http://search.creativecommons.org/, will get you to a series of sources for Creative Commons images, including Flickr and Google.
- Public Domain Clip Art, http://www.pdclipart.org/thumbnails.php?album=37
- Public domain images.com http://www.public-domain-image.com/
Link to it! Pointing students to the source of content on the web is lawful. The only limitation here is that you should ensure that you are pointing to a legitimate source for the content. That is, the original website or poster of the content (in the case of YouTube, for example) must have or reasonably be expected to have the authority to host or post the content. Provide a soft link (that is, make it clear that the students are leaving the course website and going to another website), so that the students view the content from the original source; do not deep embed the content (that is, hide the source of the hosting website).
Conduct a fair use analysis. In the context of open-access online education, fair use is somewhat limited. Faculty may safely rely on fair use in two circumstances. 1) The image shown is being directly criticized. For example, in a photography course, a photo is being shown to illustrate the problems with over-exposing film. 2) The image is being used in a transformative way; that is, the purpose for use in the course is completely different than its original purpose. For example, in a course about web design it is acceptable to a show web screen shot of an auction from e-Bay to illustrate a web design technique; that is, the transformative purpose is to illustrate a web design principle, completely different from eBay’s intended purpose of hosting an online auction. Beyond these two safer applications of fair use, it may also be a fair use to use limited portions of copyrighted materials that directly impact the educational goal sought. In particular, limited images that demonstrate or illustrate the educational concept at issue could be found to be fair use when used sparingly and appropriately. For example, it would likely be a fair use to show a picture of a plant cell dividing in a discussion on that topic. Stay away from cumulative examples. Favor public domain images (of the cell dividing, for example) over copyrighted images.
Seek clearance from the publisher for use. Generally, you can go to the website of the publisher and find a link for copyright or “contact us.”
Pay for a license. Many images can be licensed for a fee. (Some people find the certainty and speed of this method preferable to contacting the publisher for permission.)
- Multiple Image Database, http://www.istockphoto.com/
Blank it out. If you are not able to make one of the options above work, then take the image out. Stanford will provide tools to blank out images.
Do not use copyrighted material unless it is necessary to achieve the educational goals you are seeking for your students. Do not use cumulative materials (for example, use one image of a plant cell in prophase, not three). Unless you have permission, do not include copyrighted material for the sake of entertainment (a cartoon, a picture of a puppy to introduce the concept of puppy love, a climber at the top of a mountain to illustrate how far we’ve come).
In addition to the above information, unless you are offering direct criticism or commentary, stay away from the following material:
- Getty Images
- Popular movies, television shows, songs
For more information about the use of materials in online education, we recommend the guidelines put together by the Center for Social Media. http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/ocw
 Many online courses are non-profit in nature, and accordingly a license permitting use for non-profit purposes is sufficient permission to use the image in the non-profit online course. Stanford recommends getting broader for-profit licenses to anticipate future uses of the courses. It is very common that material developed for one purpose today will be re-purposed in the future. Getting broad licenses ensures the future usability of the developed content.