Copyright Laws, The Internet, and You {Part 1}


There’s nothing more fun than assets and copyrights. No, seriously... For nearly 16 years I've been locating assets and acquiring the rights to use them in SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. I enjoy hunting down rights holders, locating just the right photograph or video to accompany content written by our curriculum specialists, or, even better, discovering that elusive asset I’ve unearthed is in the public domain! Woohoo!

OK, so maybe not everyone finds copyrights and the pursuit of the perfect asset so interesting. Asset acquisition can be a complex and painful process. I’ve seen my share of asset upsets and copyright woes.

What is an asset and can I use it?

"Abraham Lincoln, half-length, seated, with empty hands," is this photo's official title.

Let’s start with the basics. An asset is an item of property which has value. Assets used in SAS Curriculum Pathways include texts, images (photographs, paintings, and graphics), data, video, audio, software, fonts, and music. If you’ve ever wondered how and where we obtain some of our third party assets (assets not created in-house by SAS), here are just a few examples.

The humanities usually pose the most difficult (and by difficult I also mean fascinating!) challenges. One of the most reliable resources for historic assets is the U.S. National Archives Records Administration. The National Archives includes all U.S. presidential libraries, many of which have their own searchable web sites.

Another favorite historical resource is Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Their collections include

I particularly love this photograph of President Abraham Lincoln from PPOC, which we use in the social studies Interactive Tool, Lincoln and the Civil War.The PPOC’s entry dates the photo as February 5, 1865. This may be the last photograph taken of the president before his death. His craggy face and mussed hair reveal a worn man. The Civil War had clearly taken a toll.

When it's time to dig

So, is everything at The National Archives or Library of Congress in the public domain (free to use without restrictions)? No. Not even close. Each asset must be examined carefully to determine rights status. On some occasions an asset is clearly identified as public domain, but many times rights information is unclear, missing, or unknown. Expect to do some digging.

In our World Literature: Norse Sagas, Albert Goodwin’s The Viking Sea Raiders offers another example of how we use images to enhance interactive content.


Students use this World Literature Interactive Tool to examine the narrative elements that characterize medieval Norse sagas

The painting’s muted colors immediately set the tone, and the Viking ships elicit the proper setting for texts to be explored in the lesson. I acquired permission to use this painting from a stock photography company which licenses photographs and fine art. That means the image may be used in our lesson, but since it is not in the public domain and we do not own the image, we cannot transfer usage rights to others.

In part two of this discussion, we’ll talk about text assets, science, and math.


Are you interested in using screenshots, video, or other excerpts from SAS Curriculum Pathways? There’s a process for that! Simply complete our Permission to Use Copyrighted Materials Request form. Sometimes we cannot provide you with permission because of licensing restrictions on third-party assets. However, whenever we can, we will. We’d love for you to be a cheerleader for us!


About Author

Trena Brantley

Trena Brantley is the Sr. Media Operations Specialist for SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. Prior to arriving at SAS in 1998, she worked as an educational research and evaluation consultant, copyright permissions specialist / editor, and test development specialist for the North Carolina Testing Program. She loves reading, writing, music, dogs, Doctor Who, kung fu, collecting hard-to-find martial arts films, and being an investigative research nerd.

1 Comment

  1. Judith Eller on

    As a retired media specialist, I dealt with copyright every day! Thanks for making everyone aware of this!

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