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Copyright for Learning Professionals

ball and chain

Facing jail or even prison time is not a place I ever want to find myself. Several stories in the news have been exploring charges that may lead to arrests of some very powerful people in this country. Reading through the allegations, there seems to be a lot of lawyers fighting about what they consider to be grey areas in the law. These stories have me wondering if it would have just been easier for these individuals to simply stay on the right side of the law in the first place, but perhaps they were never briefed on the actions that could initiate a probe. This made me think more about the implications of copyright for learning professionals.

As L&D professionals, it is important that we never find ourselves in a legal grey area. As we create and distribute content, it is vital that we follow the laws of copyrights and fair use. A copyright isn’t a complicated attribution to any work. Generally, work is under copyright protection once it is created. Copyrighted work may be registered, but it isn’t legally necessary to register any copyright unless there is legal action being taken. In other words:

Even if you don’t see a copyright, it is illegal to steal someone’s work and call it your own!

At first glance, this looks like an easy law to follow. In reality, there are some blurry lines when it comes to copyright for learning professional. Let’s take a look at a few grey areas of copyright infringement:

Attributing Text

Plagiarism wasn’t cool in your eighth-grade book report, and it isn’t cool now. Written material is copyrighted unless it falls under a creative commons license. For example, you cannot take this blog post and repost it as your own. That seems fairly self-evident. You can, however, pull a quote and attribute it to this blog, but it needs to be only a small portion of your content and not the heart of your message. You can also read this post and pull information from it as you research information to generate ideas for your own content.

If you are unsure that you are meeting these requirements, it is always best to reach out to the author.

Using Photos with Permission

Stock photos are only okay to use if you have permission from the creator. You can either pay for these photos on a site like iStock or you can use a free site like Pixabay. Free sites do not require you credit the photographer, but to maintain integrity, I recommend you do so.

Beyond stock photos, some companies have repositories of photos for use. If there is any grey area in your use of those photos, once again, it is best to contact the photographer and always credit them if you use their work.


Videos are a bit trickier when it comes to how you can use them. As curation continues to be a conversation in our industry, how do we ensure that we are not facing a cease and desist order as we organize topics around a theme?

TED Talk Usage Policy, for example, has a lot of legal requirements when it comes to repurposing their videos. To put it bluntly, do not use a TED Talk without obtaining the proper license. I love TED talks, and they have a place in curation. If you use them, make sure you read the TED Talk Usage Policy.

YouTube and other similar streaming site have a lot of sharing options, but you need to read the fine print to make sure you are meeting all legal requirements. Like Stock photos, sharing options are typically at the discretion of the author.

Original Work is Best!

When it comes to content, it is best to share your own original work. If that isn’t possible, be prudent with content created by others. Be willing to purchase what you need, and when in doubt, ask the creator. Asking permission will keep you on the right side of the law. Even if you are only sharing the content to a small internal team, you have to go through the ethical and legal requirements when using other people’s content.

How do you address issues of copyright for learning professionals? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


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