Intellectual Property Rights

Is there someplace I can go to find out clearly what is free to use and what needs permission? For example, some people believe that if it is available on the internet it is free to use, including Youtube videos. I have a client that needs this clarified and I don't have anything to support the IPR rules and restrictions.



8 Replies
Brian Houle

Hi, Greg:

You can only assume material is free to use if the author of that content explicitly indicates that it is (I assume you mean U.S. copyright law) under something like a Creative Commons license.  The big exception to this is, of course, content produced by the federal government, which is public domain.

Fair Use is sort of tricky, but here's how the US copyright office defines it:

In the U.S., everything is presumed to be under copyright, but it is up to the rights holder to enforce his/her rights.

In the end, it is better to be safe than sorry (i.e., better to pay for content you know is on the up-and-up then try to pull stuff from the Internet then possibly face legal action later).  Interestingly, I used to teach writing to college freshman, and that generation of students, even several years ago, had very funny ideas about using content on the Internet, intellectual property, etc.  To wit, just as you said: if it's on the Internet, and I CAN access it, I MAY access it and use it however I want.  While you could take up Lawrence Lessig's call for reformed copyright laws, unfortunately, current law is pretty draconian in its term limits and the ability of content rights holders -- especially content rights holders with deep pockets and lots of lawyers -- to "get Medieval" on those they think have violated their copyright.  

More from the USCO:

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. 

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.” 

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works. 

Greg Davis

Thanks, this is helpful and what I needed. Will these statements be true?

1. I can not take a Youtube video or a graphic from the internet and put it into my Articulate Program due to IPR.

2. I can LINK to the video and still be allowed to show the video.

Would these be correct?

Lastly, is there any written best practices out there specifically for eLearning that could act as a guideline besides the US Government site?

Brian Houle

Hi, Greg:

#1 is correct, except where the rights holder explicitly grants such permission.  The chances that your average YouTube author would come after you for using his/her work without permission is slim, but again, why risk it?  This is why stock media sites are a good idea for e-learning development: the content has been cleared for particular, and well-spelled-out uses.  Remember: even valid examples of fair use (i.e., parody) are not lawyer-proof these days.

#2 is generally correct.  Keep in mind that some sites (not YouTube, of course) have anti-deep-linking policies (i.e., they don't like you linking to any page on their site except the home page).

I'm not sure there is anything explicitly for e-learning and IP, but generally fair use is fair use and copyright infringement is copyright infringement.  It's best to be conservative.  Get a subscription of a stock media site and use that for your content so you don't have to worry about some rights holder come a-knocking down the road.  Just look at what Beyonce is going through.

If you're really looking for something more in-depth yet pretty easy to relate to clients, I might direct you to any fairly-recently published (within the last few years) composition handbook -- any one worth its salt will have some discussion about the Web and IP as more and more classroom work incorporates and deals with web content.  Such discussion is directly applicable to any sort of media composition, including e-learning.

Good luck,


Simon Perkins

Another thing to check out is whether the client intends to resell the course or in some way make it available on multiple domains or via mass printed copies.  This can often stretch the legalities of 'standard licensing' and require you to purchase an 'extended license' (and even multiple 'extended licenses' in some cases).  I.e an image can go from costing £10 to £250!  And that's just for a single image.

Clients and SMEs often overlook the legalities of this because they don't necessarily think it's an issue for consideration.  

For absolute clarity, email your request to the library's sales team and get everything back in writing so you (and your client) know where you stand.