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Copyright Issues when Shifting Your Course from In-Person to Remote

Information on copyright issues faculty may encounter when moving a course from online to remote instruction.

Important Note: Moving Courses Online During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Last Update: March 16th, 2020

The University Libraries recognize the urgency of questions around the University's decision to temporarily move all instruction online and have created this guide to assist faculty in this difficult transition. It will be updated as needed and noted in this section. We are working rapidly to support these efforts and ask for understanding should we not be able to respond as rapidly as is normally desirable.

Introduction

There are many pedagogical and technical issues that make the shift from in-person to online teaching challenging, but for once, copyright is not an additional area of major concern!

Most of the legal issues are the same in both contexts. If it was okay to do in class, it is often okay to do online, especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students.

Course readings and other resources

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already gotten access to all assigned reading materials. As always, the Libraries' Course Reserves team can help with getting things online - linking to Libraries subscription resources, finding ebooks where available, and much more.

If you want to share additional materials with students yourself as you revise instructional plans or if you want students to share more resources with each other in an online discussion board, keep in mind some simple guidelines:

It's always easiest to link!

Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc is rarely a copyright issue. It's better not to link to existing content that looks obviously infringing itself - Joe Schmoe's YouTube video of the entire "Black Panther" movie is probably not a good thing to link to. But Sara Someone's 2-minute video of herself and her best friend talking over a few of the pivotal scenes may be fair use, and is not something you should worry about linking to.

Linking to subscription content through the Libraries is also a great option - a lot of our subscription content will have DOIs or other "permalink" options, all of which should work even for off-campus users. For assistance linking to any particular libraries subscription content, see this guide. Your subject librarians may also be able to assist with the resources in in your particular subject area.

Sharing copies

Making copies of new materials for students (by downloading and uploading files, or by scanning from physical documents) can present some copyright issues, but they're not different from those involved in deciding whether to share something online with your students when you are meeting in-person. It's better not to  make copies of entire works - but most instructors don't do that! Copying portions of works to share with students will often be fair use (see also our Copyright Question Framework or the Fair Use Evaluator).

Where an instructor doesn't feel comfortable relying on fair use, a subject specialist librarian may be able to suggest alternative content that is already online through library subscriptions, or publicly online content. The Libraries may also be able to help you seek formal copyright permissions to provide copies to students - however, this can be especially difficult on a short timeline.

Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, etc.

Slide Images

If it was legal to show slide images in class, it is likely legal to show them to students via live video conferencing or in recorded videos.  This may be a surprise if you have heard that there is a big difference between class lecture slides and online conference slides – but the issue is usually less offline versus online, than a restricted versus an unrestricted audience. As long as your new course video is being shared through course websites limited to the same enrolled students, the legal issues are fairly similar.

Many instructors routinely post a copy of their slides as a file for students to access after in-person course meetings, which also likely doesn’t present any new copyright issues after online course meetings.

In-lecture use of audio or video

Here, the differences between online and in-person teaching can be a bit more complex. Playing audio or video from physical media during an in-person class session is 100% legal under a provision of copyright law called the “Classroom Use Exemption.” However, that exemption doesn’t cover playing the same media online. If you can limit audio and video use for your course to relatively brief clips, you may be able to include those in lecture recordings or live-casts under the copyright provision called fair use. For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos. Some further options are outlined below.

Where to post your videos

There may be some practical differences in outcomes depending on where you post new course videos – on the University’s Blackboard system is one such possibility. You also can post video to YouTube, and the same basic legal provisions apply even on YouTube. However, it is more likely that videos posted on YouTube may encounter some automated copyright enforcement, such as a takedown notice, or disabling of included audio or video content. These automated enforcement tools are often--incorrect--when they flag audio, video, or images included in instructional videos; they fail to account for fair use. Should YouTube flag and remove your videos, the Libraries' Copyright Office can only be of limited assistance. Given the urgency of this situation, we strongly recommend using the University's Blackboard System or posting these videos for download in Office365's OneDrive system before resorting to YouTube or other third-party, unofficial services.

Further Information and Library Resources

License

Creative Commons License
This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
It is based on a guide from the University of Minnesota Libraries. All linked content maintains its original license.


This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.
Edit History

2020-03-16 00:11: Fixed Typo