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Copyright Essentials for Online Course Creators


Creating educational online courses inevitably involves incorporating third-party content through quotes, images, data and more. But reusing content without permission opens legal risks even with the best intentions.

This comprehensive guide covers pragmatic approaches for online course creators to stay onside of copyright law while responsibly leveraging outside material within courses. Follow these best practices to keep your educational content legal and minimize liability.

Whether just starting out creating online courses or experienced and seeking to improve policies, use these tips to build a smart content framework optimizing value while respecting rights holders. Students will appreciate your principles.

Understand Basics of Copyright Law Relevant to Courses

Copyright grants creators exclusive rights over reproducing, distributing, publicly displaying, and modifying their works.

Key considerations for course creators include:

  • Written text, illustrations, charts, videos and other course content are likely copyrighted
  • Even publishing small excerpts or screenshots may require permission
  • Simply crediting the source or linking to content does not grant reuse rights
  • Violations, even if unintentional, risk DMCA takedowns, lawsuits, and fines
  • Fair use protections for education have limits and subjective interpretation

Operating a course platform without intentional copyright systems inevitably leads to accidental infringement at scale. Stay compliant.

Conduct An Audit Reviewing Existing Courses

Before optimizing policies going forward, audit existing content already published for potential cleanup.


  • Frequency of unlicensed third-party content usage like quotes, data, multimedia etc.
  • If permissions were requested and documented for identified third-party material
  • Sources and creator details available if retrospective licensing needed
  • Problematic media like software screenshots requiring replacement
  • Areas where content scraping could be alleged like paraphrasing competitors
  • Whether takedown notices were received related to published content

An audit flags high-risk areas needing tighter controls or remediation for legal compliance and best practices.

Craft A Copyright Policy For Easy Reference

Formalize reuse rules and guidelines in a written copyright policy distributed across your organization and content creators.


  • Media types requiring permission – images, data, music, video clips, book excerpts etc.
  • Exceptions like allowed durations for short quotes
  • Sourcing obligations like linking to references
  • Non-endorsement disclaimers if featuring third-party brands
  • Licensing and fair use standards
  • Review processes for surfacing concerns
  • Consequences policy for violations

Written policies codify decisions for consistent actions organization-wide rather than case-by-case ambiguity.

Build A Permissions Process Into Content Workflows

Don’t leave securing licenses to last-minute chance. Make formal permissions processes for planned third-party usage like:

  • Mandatory permissions request templates to be sent
  • Lead times for license requests before publishing deadlines
  • Documentation filing all permission forms, denials and approvals
  • Collection of publisher or copyright holder contact details
  • Multi-step review and QA checks verifying approvals
  • Standard negotiation processes and terms/pricing guidelines

Systemizing copyright processes guarantees due diligence while accelerating publisher responses through professionalism.

Maintain Accurate Records of Licenses and Terms

License records often get lost as content evolves. Create centralized repositories retaining critical details like:

  • Contact info for license holders
  • URLs linking to original licensed content
  • Allowed duration and scope of usage terms
  • Attribution requirements like source citations
  • Specific non-endorsement or credit disclaimers
  • Unique transaction IDs facilitating usage tracking
  • Usage renewal deadlines prompting re-review

Retaining reliable deal records minimizes mistakes down the line trying to reconstruct piecemeal permissions.

Explore Bulk Licensing For Frequently Used Sources

Renegotiate blanket bulk deals with providers frequently embedded in courses like:

  • News outlets
  • Photo libraries
  • Music/video platforms
  • Academic journal publishers
  • Text/data providers

Bulk licensing allows using recurring partners’ content more flexibly while reducing administrative workload through:

  • Lower unit costs through volume discounts
  • Covering multiple creators vs. case-by-case requests
  • Simpler tracking with expansive access
  • Renegotiation optionality as usage evolves

Work top sources providing disproportionate value into long-term content partners.

Institute Tiered Review Processes Matching Risk

Standardize tiered review before publication based on infringement likelihood:

Low: Basic self-checks for brand usage, music cues etc.

Medium: Cross-team review of fair use assertions and sampled media

High: Full legal review for unpublished works, trademarks or software IP

Segmenting review depth based on risk indicators balances prudence with efficiency at scale.

Provide Easy Reference Guides to Fair Use

Equip creators with simple fair use guidance knowing when permission isn’t necessary.

Quick fair use risk checks include:

  • Very brief quotes used for commentary
  • Purely factual usage for technical illustrations
  • Transformed content like parodies
  • Educational usages meeting statutory criteria
  • Public domain and Creative Commons-licensed media
  • Incidental insignificant background usage

Simplifying how to legally apply fair use empowers creators to avoid overly conservative self-censorship.

Highlight Licensing Partners in Course Promotions

Don’t just treat licensing deals as necessary evils. Spotlight them positively as quality signals.

Promote partners through:

  • Quotes provided applauding their inclusion for enriching courses
  • Bios and brand profiles giving context around providers
  • Public thanks and acknowledgements like lecture credits
  • Links driving traffic back to referenced providers
  • Co-marketing launches of course content utilizing partner materials

Positioning content partners as prestigious collaborators adds credibility for students while building goodwill.

Review Courses Approaching Renewal Deadlines

Revisit courses nearing license expirations requiring re-approval and changes:

  • Audit courses against license records to flag expirations
  • Promptly contact partners about renewals or extensions
  • Update removal processes for expired materials
  • Swap in alternate media if needed
  • Adjust descriptions if licenses imposed restrictions
  • Remove entire sections if rights gaps can’t be bridged

Following up ahead of renewals prevents risky unlicensed usage, interruptions and problematic preservation.

Treat Affiliate Links Ethically

Transparently disclose affiliate links rather than slipping them in surreptitiously.

Best practices include:

  • Labelling links as affiliate or paid
  • Capping links to avoid overwhelming value
  • Linking contextually within product recommendations only, not editorial content
  • Rotating affiliate codes evenly among partners
  • Excluding links involving potential conflicts of interest
  • Previewing recommendations for quality even with affiliate incentives

Editorial integrity earns trust. Handled ethically, affiliate revenue improves free content sustainability.


Teaching through an online platform allows incredible reach but also increased legal obligations around copyright. Adopting formal reuse policies and permissions processes reduces infringement risks.

With the right compliance frameworks implemented upfront, course creators tap into a wealth of quality reference materials enriching lessons without compromising educational principles or leaving themselves exposed. Knowledge wants to be shared.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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