Course Management Systems (CMSs) are enhancing the educational
experience for both face-to-face and distance learning by making
it easier for students and instructors to communicate, teach and
learn. While the value of a CMS is clear, there is much confusion
when it comes to CMSs and copyright.
Many CMS vendors offer publisher-created content with their systems.
They also offer schools and faculty the tools required for uploading
and posting content — including readings and course syllabi
— as well as other functionality, such as interactive student
chat; instructor Q&A; student monitoring, testing and assessment;
and grading and other class management functions. These easy to
use tools allow instructors and others to upload information themselves,
bypassing traditional controls for securing copyright permission
and placing a new responsibility on instructors and IT departments.
Instructors, IT department personnel, staff members and others
who upload content to a CMS often believe that because the content
is password-protected, copyright permission is not required or
that someone else has obtained it prior to the registration process.
This is not true. Unlike publisher-created content from the CMS
vendor (who has already obtained the necessary permission), content
that is uploaded by faculty members and others typically requires
When it comes to copyright, there is no difference between digital
and paper-based environments. While CMSs often replace the use
of coursepacks, classroom handouts and library reserves, traditional
copyright rules still apply. If you need permission to use the
content in paper format (such as the content available to multiple
students in coursepacks), you almost certainly need it to use
the content in an electronic format (such as the content available
to multiple students through a CMS).
To clarify the copyright requirements for a CMS,
consider the following guidelines:
- Vendor-provided content – This is
content developed by publishers and sold with, or in addition
to, the CMS. Copyright licensing is usually included in the
price of the content; therefore copyright requirements are likely
to have been met.
- Content uploaded by faculty, staff or others
– This is content not provided by the CMS vendor, that
is added to the CMS. The institution must adhere to traditional
copyright law in reproducing this content for use by multiple
students. In general, if you need to obtain permission to use
the content in paper format, you probably need permission to
use it in electronic format as well.
- Library-provided content – This is
content that is licensed by library or institution license,
and is available as part of its regular holdings or through
subscriptions. Access to this content by faculty, students and
others is governed by the license for the content. Review the
current license carefully to determine what copyright permission
is included, if any.
In 2002, the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization
(TEACH) Act became law. The TEACH Act has expanded the scope of
fair use for the performance and display of copyright-protected
materials in a distance education environment, including by means
of a CMS. Click here for more
information on the TEACH Act.