Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to remote

NOTE: As institutions around the country work to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, library copyright specialists have published a growing body of supporting material to help folks deal specifically with the copyright issues that are arising as universities (and especially libraries) work to provide education in extraordinary ways during these extraordinary times. The information on this page describes a prudent approach to pivoting a course from in-person to online that will apply even outside of public health crises like the one we are coping with now. However, for information that is tailored to meeting this emergency scenario, you may want to consult these resources:

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 September 21, 2021.)

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 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 the University of Virginia 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 Collab platform it is easy to control access at the level of individual videos. You also can post video to YouTube, and the same basic legal provsions 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. If you encounter something like this that you believe to be in error, you can contact the UVA copyright team for assistance.

Course readings and other resources

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already obtained 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 always easiest to link!

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, PURLs, or other “permalink” options, all of which should work even for off-campus users. For assistance linking to any particular libraries subscription content, check with Ask A Librarian. Your library may provide some content that has special restrictions, such as Harvard Business School case studies. Ask your librarian if you are concerned about particular content.

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.

At the University of Virginia, faculty are entrusted to make determinations about whether fair use permits them to scan and share library materials. Libraries staff members can help you understand the relevant issues (contact UVA copyright team).

Where an instructor doesn’t feel comfortable relying on fair use, your department’s library liaison may be able to suggest alternative content that is already available through library subscriptions, or publicly available content. The Libraries may also be able to help you seek formal copyright permissions to provide copies to students – but there may be some issues with getting permissions on short timelines.

Multimedia viewing/listening

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. The Libraries already have quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course. We also have access to several collections of streaming audio.

We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media, but standard commercial streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ may sometimes be the easiest or only available option. (For exclusive content, the commercial services may be the only option.)

Ownership of online course materials

The University of Virginia’s Copyright Ownership Policy affirms that academic and research faculty members own the copyright in their academic works, including instructional content. Some units and departments have different policies around ownership of course video at the unit level, but you would likely already be aware of that if it is applicable. Some units may also have some shared expectations of shared -access- to course video for continuity of educational experiences, without those expectations affecting the ownership of the materials.

University policies also affirm that students own the copyright in their own coursework. Instructors can require them to submit it in particular formats, but the 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 our copyright team for further information or assistance.

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. Improved by collaboration from too many wonderful colleagues to count.