Copyright Considerations in Shifting Your Course from In-Person to Online

Adapted from “Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online” (link goes to a version of the page archived by the Wayback Machine on March 20, 2020) by Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota Libraries, and licensed CC BY-NC 3.0.

Many pedagogical and technical issues make the shift from in-person to online teaching challenging, but for once, copyright is not a big additional area of worry. 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 in a fully online classroom environment, especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students.

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 only 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 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 at Emory University under a provision of copyright law called the Classroom Teaching 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.

For technical help sharing video clips with students, please see the Canvas Team’s Guide to the Canvas Studio Video Management Tool.

Course readings and other resources 

Keep in mind these simple guidelines concerning sharing course readings and other learning materials.

It's always easiest to link! 

Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, and so forth is rarely a copyright issue. However, it’s better not to link to existing content that looks obviously infringing itself. For instance, the shaky hand-held camera recording of the entire Black Panther movie uploaded to YouTube by Joe Schmoe 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. Much of our subscription content will have DOIs, PURLs, or other permalink options, all of which should work even for off-campus users. For assistance linking to any of our subscription content, contact your subject librarian. If you are concerned about content that has special restrictions, such as Harvard Business School case studies, ask your librarian for help.

Sharing copies 

Making copies of 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, and at times (especially under unusual circumstances or with works that aren’t otherwise commercially available), it may even be fair use to make lengthier copies.

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, such as open access articles or open educational resources. The Libraries’ Reserves Team can also help you seek formal copyright permissions to provide copies to students through the reserves system, but there may be some issues with getting permissions on short timelines.

Multimedia viewing/listening 

Sharing an entire movie or musical work online may be a bit more of an issue than playing it in class, but there may be options for your students to access it independently online. The Libraries already have quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course. The Libraries also already have subscriptions to a significant set of streaming audio options for Emory users.

We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media, but sometimes you may have to refer your students to standard commercial streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+. In fact, for exclusive content, these commercial services may be the only option. Where there are no other options, fair use may sometimes extend to playback of an entire work, but again, that will generally only be true for unusual outliers.

Ownership of online course materials 

Emory University's Intellectual Property Policy affirms that faculty own the copyright in their scholarly works. University policies also affirm that students own the copyright in their own coursework. Instructors can require them to submit it in particular formats, but students continue to own their works unless a separate agreement is signed by the student.

Instructors may wish to inform or remind students about classroom policies regarding sharing course materials. For instance, if an instructor does not want students to share slide decks or study guides outside of the course management system, the instructor should remind students of this and may wish to include notices about this in course content.

More Questions? Need help? 

Contact the Scholarly Communications Office for further information or assistance.