There are a lot of pedagogical and technical issues that 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 online, especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students.
(This document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 13, 2020.)
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 about offline versus online than about presenting to 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 issues after online course meetings.
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 VCU 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 TEACH Act or a copyright provision called fair use. For media use longer than brief clips (like an entire movie, film, or musical work), you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos. Instructors can search for streaming options through VCU Libraries.
Standard commercial streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ may sometimes be the easiest option. (For exclusive content, the commercial services may be the only option.)
With VCU's Kaltura platform, you can record videos, limit access to students enrolled in specific courses, and connect to your course in Blackboard. You can also record video via Zoom and post these videos in Blackboard. For more information on Kaltura and Zoom, see VCU's Keep on Teaching guide.
Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already gotten 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:
Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc. is rarely a copyright issue. (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, permanent URLs, or other "permalink" options, all of which should work even for off-campus users. For assistance linking to any particular VCU Libraries subscription content, check with the VCU Libraries Ask Us team.
Making copies of new materials for students (by downloading and uploading files, or by scanning from physical documents) can present some copyright issues. 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, but faculty must always decide this on a case-by-case basis.
At VCU, faculty are entrusted to make determinations about whether fair use permits them to scan and share library materials or personally-owned materials. To share copies of copyrighted works online, it is best practice to perform a fair use analysis and keep a copy of your analysis (like a fair use checklist) on hand. The University of Georgia System has developed a fair use checklist that applies well to teaching and course materials. This checklist can be used to assist you as you determine whether or not your proposed use falls under fair use.
Contact Hillary Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org for help with understanding fair use.
Where an instructor doesn't feel comfortable relying on fair use, a library subject specialist may be able to suggest alternative content that is already available online through library subscriptions. Instructors can also get assistance with licensing permissions for copyrighted materials from XanEdu (a partner of Barnes & Noble). There is no cost for faculty to use XanEdu. Visit XanEdu's faculty page for more information, and get started by requesting customized support or by using the DIY customization platform.
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.
Tips for navigating copyright and course materials:
What to do if the materials you want aren't available through the library, aren't freely available online, or don't fall under fair use:
You may be familiar with a copyright "rule" that says sharing one chapter of a book or 10% of a work is not infringement. However, this is not a true rule you can rely on. It is not recognized by courts, and it not a substitute for a fair use analysis, which must always be done on a case-by-case basis.
To share copies of copyrighted works in the classroom or online (like through Blackboard), it is best practice to perform a fair use analysis and keep a copy of your analysis (like a fair use checklist) on hand.
The University of Georgia System has developed a fair use checklist that applies well to teaching and course materials. This checklist can be used to assist you as you determine whether or not your proposed use falls under fair use.
Face-to-face instruction exceptions (17 U.S. Code § 110(1)) permit the performance and display of copyrighted works without permission or payment when all of the following requirements are met:
This exception does not, however, apply to making or distributing copies of copyrighted works. When making or distributing copies, instructors must rely on fair use or seek permission from copyright holders.
Virtual instruction is when a course is taught entirely online or when components of a face-to-face course are taught online (such as with Blackboard) and may include digitally transmitting class materials to students. Transmitting performances or displays of copyrighted works may be authorized under the TEACH Act (17 U.S. Code § 110(1)), which was enacted to allow comparable instruction in the online environment as to what takes place in a traditional classroom or face-to-face instruction.
The TEACH Act does not apply to materials shared online for supplementary reading, viewing, or listening. Instructors will need to rely on fair use for decisions about these materials.
There are numerous requirements for teaching, technology, and course materials that instructors must meet to qualify for the TEACH Act exceptions.
See UNC Charlotte's TEACH Act Toolkit for more information.