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Copyright & Fair Use For Faculty


There are many pedagogical and technical issues that make the shift from in-person to remote 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 online, especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students. 

The bulk of remote teaching will look just like your regular class – you’ll be sharing a whiteboard or slides, images and documents, course readings, and perhaps audio and video clips. You may also be recording your class for asynchronous access, and making the recording available to students for later viewing. The below guidelines apply to converting residential instruction to remote teaching. 

This guide is not intended as a substitute for legal advice.  If you have questions about whether something should be used for class or not, you should reach out to Alternatively, there is a service that will do this work for you called course reserves.

If you have any other questions, please contact us at Ask Us.

(This page is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 25, 2020. Adapted from “Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online” by Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota Libraries, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.)

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 in Canvas 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

Playing copyrighted audio or video sourced from physical media during an in-person class session is legal under a provision of copyright law called the “Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption.” For online class sessions, copyright law permits playing portions of an audio or video work in amounts comparable to that which is typically played during an in-person class session. In this sense, the provisions of copyright law for teaching with audio and video content are equivalent for in-person and online class sessions. However, if the video shown during an online class session is sourced from a physical video (such as a DVD) protected by technology that controls access to copyrighted works, the law permits showing only short portions of that video in an online class session.

Technical Guides for Remote Teaching from Distributed Education

Course readings, media assignments, and other resources outside of class

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already received access to all assigned reading materials. If you want to share additional readings with them 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 better to request copies that you want to share with your class through the Course Reserves Service.  Library staff will assess the copyright concerns and either deem the material fair use or pursue permissions to post the material. 

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.

Where an instructor doesn’t feel comfortable relying on fair use, your liaison librarian may be able to suggest alternative content that is already online through library subscriptions, or publicly available content.

Multimedia viewing/listening

If an instructor has assigned audio or video content for study outside of class and that content is not already available to the students online, please note that the Libraries provide 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 New School users. Please contact your liaison librarian for help determining if the audio or video content you need for teaching is available through the Libraries. If it is not, the Libraries may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media. 

Video content distributed exclusively by commercial streaming providers such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ can be used for teaching if you and your students have your own personal accounts with those providers.

It’s always easiest to link! If students can use publicly available online content to complete their assignments, then linking in Canvas to that content (for example, news websites, online videos, etc.) is rarely a copyright issue. (Better not to link to third-party 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 always a great option – a lot of our subscription content will have permanent links like DOIs, PURLs, or other “permalink” options, all of which should work even for off-campus users.  Anything that is linked to from our databases has been licensed. It's important to note that this material should ONLY be made available to students in your class and not posted on the public internet.