When you design your class listing and class content, it is critical that you consider the copyright and trademark protections of any materials you use. While we cannot advise you on specific legal issues, we have put together tips and best practices on how to avoid copyright and trademark infringement: We discuss some strategies that may help to avoid or mitigate claims of infringement, which include using content in the public domain, finding open source or purchasable licensed images, and providing attributions in your class listing. We also go over how to reference a trademark in your class listing and clarify that your class is not an official product of the trademark.
Copyright and trademark protections
Copyright protects creative works, such as books, photographs, images, art, movies, videos, and music. If somebody has the copyright to such a creative work, it means that they have certain exclusive rights to the content, including the exclusive right to reproduce the content, typically for a certain amount of time (e.g., until 70 years after the creator’s death), after which it falls into the public domain and is no longer subject to copyright. Under the ‘fair use’ principle, copyrighted materials may be used without infringement for certain purposes, including for criticism and non-profit education, so long as certain legal criteria are met (see more on fair use in the ‘resources’ section below).
Trademarks protect the use of names, words, logos, and symbols that have been used or registered to represent a specific company or product. If you reference a trademarked name, for example, it is important to avoid creating confusion and make clear that your class is not an official product or has any kind of relationship with the trademark in question.
How to avoid copyright infringement
If you use any creative works such as an image or video clip as part of your class listing, you need to have the right to use the content you upload. Many images and other creative works online are copyrighted and are not available for reuse. You are not allowed to use someone else’s copyrighted photograph, image, video, music, or your own reproduction (e.g., photograph) of any copyrighted creative work.
The good news is that there are creative works available online that can be used in class listings without any copyright restrictions. For example, if an image is in the public domain, it is free for anyone to use (e.g., see the New York Public Library’s public domain digital collection). If you purchase a licensed image (e.g., from Shutterstock or Getty Images) and make sure you comply with the terms of its license (e.g., how the image may be used, what attribution you need to provide), you may also upload it. Other websites such as Creative Commons provide free open source licenses for images. Once again, you’ll need to make sure that you comply with the open source license terms, which may include adding the image attribution in your class listing (e.g., depending on the attribution rules, a proper attribution may be “The image is called “Diagon Alley 2”, with commercial license CC BY 2.0”).
There are many other sites online that make images available for free use. Please be mindful that it might not be possible to know whether whoever made those images available had the right to do so. Do not trust every site offering free images and always check and comply with the image’s licensing terms before uploading it.
Materials used in class
You may show, read, discuss, or distribute any materials in class that are in the public domain. You may not use copyrighted materials such as images and video clips during class unless they fall under ‘fair use’. Under this ‘fair use’ clause, you may be allowed to very briefly use copyrighted materials as a reference or for clearly educational purposes, e.g., a copyrighted image to illustrate a certain art form during an art history class. Under this same clause, you may also be able to discuss a copyrighted work for the purpose of criticism and analysis. But please be aware that there are a number of criteria that must be met for this to be considered ‘fair use’ for copyright purposes (you can read more about ‘fair use’ in the reference section).
How to avoid trademark infringement
If you reference a trademarked name, word, logo, or symbol owned by or registered to a specific company or product, it is important to avoid any confusion and make clear that your use does not imply any sort of affiliation with, sponsorship by, or relationship with the trademark owner or their products/services. For instance, you may not use a trademarked name on its own as your class title. Instead, you could create a clarifying title such as “Using <trademark> to explain the principles of physics” and emphasize in your class listing that your class has no relationship with the company or product to which the trademark is registered. That way, you are not using the trademark to refer to your own class, but only to refer to the goods or services offered by the trademark owner. Before using a trademark in a class title, check if it’s absolutely necessary to do so and use only so much of the trademark as necessary. When you write your class listing, make sure that you do not suggest sponsorship or affiliation with the trademark owner.
We realize that this post has been dense and full of things not to do! While we cannot provide legal advice on individual questions or cases of copyright or trademark infringement, we hope the above explanations and guidelines were helpful. Here is a summary of best practices to avoid copyright or trademark infringement:
For your class listings:
- Use content that is in the public domain (e.g., see the New York Public Library’s public domain digital collection)
- Alternatively, consider purchasing a licensed image (e.g., from Shutterstock or Getty Images) and making sure you comply with the terms of its license (e.g., how the image may be used, what attribution you need to provide)
- As a third option, check out Creative Commons, which provides free open source licenses for images; make sure that you comply with the image’s license terms and add the image attribution in your class listing (e.g., “The image is called “Diagon Alley 2”, with commercial license CC BY 2.0”)
- If you have to mention any trademarked word, logo, or symbol in a class title, figure out how to put it into context that reflects how it will be used educationally (e.g., “Using <trademark> to explain the principles of physics”)
- Emphasize in your class description that the class has no relationship with the trademark’s company or product, e.g., by using a disclaimer
- Use any content in the public domain or any content that you have licensed to use in class
- Only use copyrighted materials if they fall under the ‘fair use’ principle
Possible consequences of copyright and trademark infringement
Outschool takes copyright and trademark infringements very seriously. Our Terms of Service prohibit you from using our platform in a way that infringes on anyone else’s copyright or trademark protections. If you violate anyone else’s copyright or trademark protections in your class listing or teaching materials, you can be personally liable and could have to pay monetary damages and the other side’s attorney fees in a lawsuit.
We reserve the right to take down any material posted on our platform that may violate someone else’s intellectual property rights. We may do so in response to a “DMCA takedown notice” after a copyright owner has submitted a copyright infringement complaint (see our DMCA guidelines on how copyright complaints are filed). If we receive such a notice and take down your class listing, we will let you know and provide you the opportunity to submit a counter-notice (also described in our DMCA guidelines), or to update your content in such a way that it does not infringe on anyone else’s copyrights. Note that this DMCA process does not apply to trademark infringement.
If you’d like to learn more about copyright and trademarks, below are a few resources that might be helpful. We cannot vouch for the accuracy or completeness of the information provided in these websites.
- Copyright: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-definitions.html
- Copyright fair use: https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html
- Trademark: https://www.uspto.gov/page/about-trademark-infringement
- Trademark fair use: https://www.inta.org/TrademarkBasics/FactSheets/Pages/Fair-Use-of-TrademarksNL.aspx
- Another teacher resource: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Help/Copyright-Trademark