Most copyright issues are not very different during COVID-19 than they were previously, in person and online. Most of the legal issues are the same in both modalities and in both pre-pandemic and current times. If it was okay to do in class, it is often okay to do online, especially when online access is limited to only those students registered for the course.
However, many instructors are still encountering issues that are new to them due to an increasing use of online teaching and learning resources. Read below to learn more about copyright considerations in online teaching during COVID-19.
If you have any questions after reading through this content, please contact Scottie Kapel, Scholarly Communication Librarian, at email@example.com.
(This document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated August 12, 2010.)
In the spring of 2020, when many instructors were rapidly shifting their courses online, a group of copyright experts in higher education put out a public statement (linked below) that suggested fair use might be more expansive and/or flexible under the time and public health pressures of that moment. As the pandemic has continued in the United States, the time pressures of the spring have eased, but the public health pressures to minimize contact between individuals have not. While fair use is likely not as flexible as it might have been last spring, it is reasonable to think that it may still be a bit more flexible than it is when there is no pandemic.
Fair use doesn't operate by broad rules. It always requires some thought about the specific item and the specific context of your use. At times (especially in unusual circumstances, or with works that aren't otherwise commercially available) fair use may extend to lengthier copies.
If you're not already familiar with the basic four factors of fair use, start there. Follow the link to the fair use page in the navigation menu on the left side of this page for more information about the four factors of fair use as well as examples of some common teaching and learning scenarios where fair use comes into play.
The library is here to help you. If you have questions about fair use or need help with a fair use analysis, contact your liaison librarian or Scottie Kapel.
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. 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 password-protected 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.
In-lecture use of audio or video
Here, the differences between online and in-person teaching can be more complex. Playing audio or video off physical media during an in-person class session is 100% legal at Western Carolina University 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 fair use. For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside your lecture videos. Some further options are outlined below.
Where to post your videos
Using the University's Panopto platform, it is easy to control access at the level of individual videos and to connect to your course in Blackboard. The Coulter Faculty Commons is prepared to assist faculty throughout this process.
As always, you can contact your liaison librarian (directory linked below) if you need help locating electronic copies of articles or books.
If you want to share additional materials with students yourself or if you want students to share 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. A pirated copy of the entire Black Panther movie you found on YouTube is probably not a good thing to link to, but a short video of someone 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 library is also a great option. A lot of our subscription content will have DOIs or other permalink options, which should work even for off-campus users. For assistance linking to any particular library-subscribed content, contact your liaison librarian.
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, and at times it may even be fair use to make lengthier copies.
Where an instructor doesn't feel comfortable relying on fair use, their liaison librarian may be able to suggest alternative content that is already online through library subscriptions or publicly available. Contact your library liaison or Scottie Kapel, Scholarly Communication Librarian, if you have any questions about sharing copies with your students.
Showing an entire movie or film 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. Hunter Library already has quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course (see link below). We may be able to license streaming access for additional media, if available through our streaming vendors. Please contact your liaison if you have questions about specific titles.
While most instructors want to keep course costs low for students, please note that individual subscriptions to standard commercial streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ are often the only option for access to exclusive content.