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Copyrights Issues for Online Education

Posted By Kirsten Locke, Friday, June 13, 2014
Updated: Friday, June 13, 2014

Maybe you are in the process of designing a talk for an Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society (OPS) educational program or even just considering an idea for a talk. Sharing your knowledge and expertise with your peers within the OPS is a very gratifying experience and greatly appreciated by everyone attending the program.

But what about those people unable to attend due to personal financial shortcomings and/or lack of educational support from the workplace. The OPS Board of Education (BOE) works hard making worthy presentations available to those people with the help of distance learning program online efforts like EyeCareCE (formerly known as ACTIONed - an online educational website for ophthalmic support Staff – where the OPS is partnered with JCAHPO, ASORN, ATPO, CSOMP) or by organizing live Webinars throughout the year.

At every educational program, the BOE asks each speaker for permission to record the lecture to make it available to a greater audience. However, only a small portion of speakers will consider this and even less are able to sign the copyrights form for this to happen.

When modules are submitted to the BOE Online Education Committee , the author of the module must guarantee that all materials and especially images and drawings are not subject to copyrights.

Using copyrighted materials on a website is not the same as using it in a personal presentation or talk given at an educational program. There, the copyright laws can be waived under a doctrine called fair use.

The rules for fair use are not clear cut and very much subject to interpretation by individual judges in a given lawsuit. Also, fair use is not a written law but rather an argument of defense in case of a copyright lawsuit. Briefly, as any potential use of copyrighted materials pertains to the OPS, the doctrine states that if the material is used for the purpose of:

  1. Nonprofit education

  2. Factual data and not artistic.

  3. Limited amount and at a small percentage of the whole work and non-repeat use

  4. Will not financially effect the potential market or value of the material

This argument is only valid when presenting something in person. When materials are posted on a website, it is expected to be repeated multiple times, how the information is used is no longer under the presenter’s control, and the fair use clause becomes invalid.

If a quote, photograph, drawing or illustration does not come from the author, but is taken from published works or the internet, it is most likely copyrighted. Each author submitting a talk for recording or creating a module for posting on EyeCareCE or the OPS website will be required to sign a legal guarantee that all materials used are either the personal property of the Author (and co-authors) or if copyrighted are done so with proper copyright permissions.

It is the responsibility of the Author to find out if any materials collected elsewhere are subject to copyrights and even though many publishers will grant the use of their published works, they usually attach a charge to that use. The OPS is not capable of financing copyright charges on a larger scale and requests that each Author find materials by other means.

Often, if a particular image is needed to illustrate a point – like a slide of a human retina showing the retinal layers – it is possible to contact the departments or doctors that produced this type of image as part of their research to ask if they would be willing to provide an image in exchange for appropriate citation and attribution towards the true owner.

Many websites geared towards education are willing to share an image if a proper request is submitted and explanations made as to the use of that image.

If you are not sure if a particular image or material is under copyrights, it is best assume it is. The rule used to be that if something was copyrighted, it would be marked with a copyright symbol or a statement “protected by copyright”; this is not the case anymore. Anything created after March 1, 1989 may be copyrighted even without a notice.

Any work published before Dec. 31, 1922 is now considered public domain. However, if a historic image taken before 1922 was published in an article or book after that date, the copyright belongs to the publisher of that article or book. True ownership belongs to the person who created the work and is considered to be copyrighted under that ownership for up to 70 years AFTER the death of said owner. Exceptions are when works are inherited and/or renewals of copyrights are filed.

Another source of images is the NEI website ( ). They have an image bank that may be used for teaching and non-profit use as long as the image is marked with “National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health”.

Copyrights aside, as a courtesy to any of our fellow photographers and imagers, any image not taken by the Author of a talk or online module should always have the label “Image provide by …”

So when you sit down at your computer to design a presentation for an OPS program, please consider the possibility of having it recorded and select your material with that in mind. It will allow your work to reach a larger audience and spread the knowledge of the ………………………>

Tags:  AAO  blog  Chicago  education  Educational Meeting  PDC  Special Events 

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Comments on this post...

Mark Maio says...
Posted Friday, June 13, 2014

Excellent post on this important subject. I gave a lecture on this at a few of the OPS Annual Education programs and it is an area I am very involved with in my fine art photography. The only thing I would add is pointing out the difference between copyright, who owns the copyright and registering the image.

Copyright: Once you click the shutter on your camera, you own the copyright, so every image made after March 1, 1989 is copyrighted by the owner and everyone should assume, unless noted otherwise, that all images/illustrations are copyrighted.

Who owns the copyright: If you are on vacation, using your own camera, you do. If you are working for someone or some organization doing, in our case, ophthalmic photography, the organization (or doctor in the case of a one person private practice), owns it. This is called doing "work for hire" as far as the courts are concerned in any copyright infringement lawsuit. If the OPS, AAO, JCAHPO ask for a waiver to be signed to use your images, your employer, not you, need to give them permission.

Registering your images: Even though you (or your employer), own the copyright of the image, should someone use it without your permission, the only way you can expect to get monetary damages against them is if your image has been registered with the Library of Congress. This is a process that can be done online and should be completed before you ever "publish" your image, although there is a separate process to register previously published images. What does "publish" mean? Simply putting it out so the public can see it. So a post to Facebook is in essence publishing it as would having your image chosen for exhibition in the OPS Scientific Exhibition.

So the bottom line is treat every image you find and consider using as if it is copyrighted because it almost always is and before you sign away usage rights to an image, determine who really owns it.
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Thomas Egnatz says...
Posted Friday, June 13, 2014

Very succinct. You could be a lawyer.
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Mark Maio says...
Posted Friday, June 13, 2014
Thanks Tom. Actually I have been told that a number of times and looked into going to law school ten years ago and specializing in copyright. My lawyer friends convinced me I was having too much fun doing what I do to waste my time becoming a lawyer.
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Kirsten G. Locke CRA. OCT-C. RN. FOPS says...
Posted Friday, June 13, 2014
Thank you Mark, your comment makes for a good addition to my post.
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