Canvas Copyright Issues

Making instructional materials available to students in Canvas 

Despite Canvas’s educational mission and password protections, copyright laws still govern what faculty and staff may legally post or upload to the course management system.   

Copyright laws give legal protection to nearly all text, images, audiovisual recordings and other materials, whether available on the internet or in any other medium.  Such materials may be posted to Canvas under any of the following circumstances: 

  • The material is made available by linking rather than uploading, 
  • The faculty/staff member is the owner of the copyright in the material, 
  • The material has been designated open access by the copyright owner, this includes Open Educational Resources (OERs) and materials using certain Creative Commons licenses 
  • The material is in the public domain 
  • The copyright owner of the material grants permission, or 
  • The use intended of the material falls within FAIR USE under copyright law or under another copyright exception (e.g. Federal Government publications). 

All materials linked or uploaded to Canvas, regardless of medium or format, should include proper citation, attribution and copyright or creative commons notices. 

Linking: The Easy Way to Provide Instructional Materials in Canvas 
The easiest way to comply with copyright laws within Canvas is linking to resources rather than uploading them.   

UW Oshkosh Libraries collection of full text electronic journals, ebooks and streaming videos provides a vast array of current and historical peer-reviewed and scholarly content for you to choose from for class use.  The licenses agreed to with the content providers allow for direct linking from Canvas as the link ensures ongoing, legal access to the copyrighted content.  

Visit the UW Oshkosh Libraries homepage to begin searching for our licensed electronic content.  

Most of our electronic textual resources will have a durable or permanent URL or link, all of which should work even for off-campus users.  Follow these directions to locate and make use of these links. 

To embed a link to a video from UW Oshkosh Libraries’ streaming collections into Canvas follow these directions  

You are also free to link to websites that provide free access to other copyrighted content as the legal burden shifts to those sites to comply with copyright.  

Uploading Files: A bit more nuance 

Uploading a copy of an electronic file or a scan of an article, chapter or image is more complicated than providing a link as you are essentially republishing that item.  This includes downloads or scans from UW Oshkosh Libraries’ resources.  Still, an instructor may be able to do this legally if the resource has been designated by the owner as open access, it is in the public domain,  permission is obtained from the copyright owner, or the use of it is in line with the fair use doctrine of the copyright law.   


Open Access  

The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement was born, in part, due to the complications of copyright law. Scholars and specialists create OERs as a way to provide quality resources to instructors of students off all ages for free and without complicated legal issues.   

Similarly, the Creative Commons system was designed to allow content creators to declare which of their materials may be free to use in different ways.   UW Oshkosh Libraries is happy to help instructors find and make use of OERs and Creative Commons materials.  Email us 


Public Domain 

All creative works eventually fall into the public domain at which point copyright laws no longer apply.  Due to the evolution of copyright laws in the United States, determining if an item is in the public domain is not always easy.  This tool provides a useful guide to help you determine if an item is in the public domain. 


Obtaining Permission   

Obtaining permission of copyright owners for the use of their materials may be as simple as emailing the creator directly or as complicated as a Copyright Clearance Center application.  In many cases there may be fees associated with the use.  Please contact UW Oshkosh Libraries before purchasing rights to content, we may already have it.   


Fair Use 

The Fair Use doctrine to US copyright law allows, under certain circumstances, instructors to upload copyrighted materials to Canvas without the prior permission of the copyright owner.  Instructors are required to conduct their own analysis to determine if their use of the material in class is “fair use.” 

The four factors are the: 

  • Purpose and character of the use - If the materials correspond to course curricula as required, assigned, or recommended materials for the course being taught, this is satisfied. 
  • Nature of the copyrighted work - traditionally non-fiction works are more suited to fair use arguments than fiction or “creative works. Unpublished materials tend to be more open to fair use than published.  
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion of the work being used in relation to the entire work - This is a great untested part of the fair use doctrine and there are no hard and fast rules.  It is up to the instructor to determine if the amount uploaded to Canvas constitutes too great a portion of the work.  
  • Effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the work - Canvas cannot be used to avoid requiring students purchase easily available textbooks, novels, sheet music or other items. 

To aid in your fair use analysis please consider the widely used “Fair Use” Checklist produced by Columbia University