Copyright Considerations and Resources for Instructional Designers

Copyright is a very complicated area of the law because, especially with the growth of online learning and increasingly digital instructional materials, the policies are constantly being (re)interpreted. As increasing amount of intellectual property becomes available via the web and any of it can be copied in a screencast or screenshot, it is difficult to protect one’s intellectual property.

Screenshots are commonly used to create images for instructional materials. It is always good manners and smart to cite sources for images, even a screenshot. One thing to be aware of is that non-commercial educational “fair use” allows for some leeway in education designs that are not possible in commercial designs. Depending on where you design instruction, the rules are different. For profit universities currently have different expectations (i.e., restrictions and regulations on re-use of content) than public universities, for example.

Copyright (origin unknown)As mentioned by Culatta (2013), adherence to copyright is essential as a skill for any instructional designer and anyone else designing information or instruction for public consumption. Culatta’s webpage on Copyright includes an extensive list of links for many other resources to explore about copyright and instructional design.

Tobin’s (2104) infographic on copyright effectively simplifies the copyright process as it applies to most education organizations. If you need a visual representation of all the information from the Culatta (2013) source and the extensive ideas presented in the Wright (2014) presentation on copyright basics, the resource from Tobin will be useful.

Note that the Wright (2104) presentation is not the ‘last word’ on the topic of instructional design must-know knowledge; every corporation/organization will have a legal department that dictates use of materials and such, yet this presentation offers a good overview of some basic considerations all instructional designers should be aware of for copyright.

~ Lisa Johnson, Ph.D.


Culatta, R. (2013). Copyright information. Retrieved from

Tobin, T. J. (2014). The one-page copyright flow chart [Image file]. Retrieved from

Wright, B. (2014, April 22). Copyright basics for corporate instructional designers [Presentation/Video file]. Retrieved from