When addressing copyrights, most of the literature in our field focuses on using copyrighted pieces in our learning programs.

But marking the copyright in our own work often creates just as much confusion for instructional designers, many of whom do not have formal training in doing so. Some instructional designers ignore the issue as unnecessarily bureaucratic. Unfortunately, ignorance of the rules offers no defense for breaking them.

Other instructional designers go overboard in indicating copyrights, unnecessarily annoying their learners in the process with excessive marking.

So this article offers basic guidance in indicating copyrights in eLearning programs by explaining what copyright is, how to write a basic copyright statement, and how to handle some common variations of the basic statement.

What is copyright?

Copyright protects a work from unauthorized copying. That is, copying a work, much less someone re-using part or all of it in another work without the written permission of the copyright holder, violates copyright law. The term for such unauthorized use of the work of others without permission is plagiarism. Copyright protects against plagiaris

In the most technical sense, your learning materials are protected even without indicating it. But indicating a copyright provides more protection should you need to enforce it. Basically, it helps lay a well-deserved guilt trip on a would-be copyright infringer. The copyright date also tells all people using the eLearning program its publication date so they can assess whether it is up-to-date.

Where do you place a copyright statement?

To indicate a copyright in an eLearning program:

  • Do so at the bottom of the title screen of the program. As an alternative, place the copyright statement on an “About this Program” page.
  • Do not place a copyright statement on every screen of a sequential learning program. It irritates learners without adding protections.
  • When developing re-usable modules (ones that might appear in several learning programs, possibly as the first module in some), consider placing a copyright statement at the bottom of the title screen of each module, to ensure that the copyright always appears to learners the first time they start a course.
  • Do place a copyright statement on every screen of an informational Website that learners use as a reference — they may read just one or two pages of the Website at a time.

How do you write a basic copyright statement?

Write a basic copyright statement like this:


© Copyright. Name of the copyright holder. 20XX. All rights reserved.

The copyright symbol. Note that the c within parentheses (c) works when the system cannot reproduce the copyright symbol.


The word “Copyright.”



Year in which the work is copyrighted.

(Unless the rights are not reserved, which is not a bright thing to do. In fact, “rights” are what the 2007-2008 strike by writers in Hollywood was about.)



  • © Copyright. Linda Educator. 2012. All rights reserved.
  • © Copyright. MegaCorporation. 2012. All rights reserved.

How do you indicate limits on the use of copyrighted materials?

In some instances, you might place limits on the use of content, such as listing the authorized and unauthorized uses of the content. In these instances, you indicate these limits in the copyright statement. For example:

Reproducing and distributing this material without the written permission of MegaCorporation is prohibited.

Do you need to include a copyright statement on open-source content?

Yes — you still need to include a copyright statement on open-source content. That’s because not all open-source content offers unlimited uses.

Open-source content refers to learning material in which you might have an interest in actively encouraging others to copy and adapt for use in their organizations.

But open source refers to a class of work that has fewer restrictions; many still place some restrictions on its use, such as allowing others to use the work for educational purposes, provided that it is properly cited.

In terms of writing the copyright statement, rather than say “All rights reserved,” indicate which rights you have made available to others and which ones you have retained. For example, you might write:

© Copyright. Linda Educator. 2012. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.

Where can I learn more about copyright statements?

To learn how to register a copyright, consult the official Website for the federal government in your country. Here are some links to the largest entities.

To learn about writing copyright statements for open source material, visit the Creative Commons Website: http://www.creativecommons.org .

You may also want to review the article by Ronald Yu, “Being An eLearning Developer Doesn’t Excuse You From Being Careful,” published in Learning Solutions Magazine, August 8, 2009.