Using publicly accessible websites and digital media

A public website, or open website, is a site that can potentially be accessed by anyone. These can include personal websites, or content hosts like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, or

About public websites

A public website, or open website, is a site that can potentially be accessed by anyone. These can include personal websites, or content hosts like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, or In the context of education, public websites limit your use of copyright-protected materials; because non-students can access these websites, the educational exceptions to copyright may not reliably be applied. Consequently, it is always preferable to share course materials over the Virtual Campus.

Determining permissions for copyright-protected materials

Materials that are your own, such as notes or presentation slides, may be posted to a public website as long as they do not contain copyright-protected materials. If your work has been published, make sure to consult the publisher’s Terms of Use for authors, as well as any agreement you may have signed with the publisher, before posting this content to a public website.

If you wish to use someone else’s copyright-protected materials on a public website, you should determine if one of the alternatives to copyright is applicable, if the work is available under an open access licence, or seek permission from the copyright-holder.

Determining permissions for digital media

Copyright-protected content is often seen in the form of physical materials such as books, but it also exists in digital content: from blogs (Blogger, and image hosts (Flickr), to social media (Facebook, Twitter) and video streams (YouTube, Netflix). When using content from digital platforms, you are encouraged to link to the original content (i.e., use a direct link or the website’s “Share” feature, if applicable), rather than copying and pasting or reuploading the material yourself.

Whether you choose to copy or link to copyright-protected materials, you should try to ensure that the content originates from a legitimate or official source. It is always advisable to consult the Terms of Use of the website from which the content originates in order to determine if your desired use is allowed (e.g., embedding, downloading, reuploading, redistributing) or if a licensing scheme exists for you to use (e.g., Creative Commons).

Permissions for popular digital media websites

FacebookUnless stated otherwise, most original texts, photographs or videos that a user posts to Facebook are protected by copyright. Generally, you may share such content using Facebook’s “Share” feature, allowing you to show others the materials without copying them directly.
TwitterThe short text in a Tweet may not always hold copyright, however, the photographs or videos associated with them often do. In general, tweets should be “Shared” through Twitter rather than copy-pasted.
YouTubeMany illegitimate copies of works are uploaded to YouTube and other video streaming websites. Look for official channels (e.g., CBCNews, tvochannel) and check if the license listed beneath the video permits your desired use. Generally, if the author of the video permits embedding, you should use this option or simply provide a link, rather than making any copies.
NetflixWhile video from most other streaming websites can be linked to or “Shared” with wider audiences, video from password-protected services like Netflix should not be shared.
InstagramAs with tweets, copyright may protect the original content (text and images) within an Instagram post. If you wish to share a post, you should generally use Instagram’s embed feature or simply provide a link.

Note: Before uploading your own materials to a third-party content host, you should always consult the website’s Terms of Use to determine how your own rights may be affected. For example, when you post a photograph on Facebook, you retain your copyright, but you also give Facebook a license to use the photograph.

Alternative digital sources

If you cannot use a copyright-protected material in the context you desire, consider searching for alternative content on one of the many copyright-friendly or public domain websites:

  • A variety of websites such as YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Wikipedia and MERLOT support the use of Creative Commons licenses to clearly outline what permissions exist for various works.
  • Project Gutenberg provides a list of eBooks available in the public domain.
  • provides an exhaustive resource of all types of free media, including books, music, videos and more.

The advanced options of Google Image Search allow you to restrict results based on “Usage rights” in order to find copyright-friendly images.

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