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Copyright, Fair Use, & Author Rights: Copyright in Times of Crisis :COVID-19

Rapidly Shifting a Course Online?

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.

Contact your librarian for help but please note that this is not legal advice, just information.
(This document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 13, 2020.)

The following sections utilizes the University of Minnesota's guide under the license, Creative Commons License unless otherwise noted. All content on the UM page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License and this guide was remixed from the University of Minnesota Libraries' Guide on Moving Your Course Rapidly Online

This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Library make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

University of California - Copyright and shifting to online instruction

  • Use Canvas, Moodle, or other campus-approved platforms
  • Link when you can
  • Rely on Fair Use
  • Ask for permission (but only if you need it)
  • Get help from your campus library

UC San Diego Library Resources

Contact your librarian or Scholarly Communications for help.


SLIDE IMAGES - Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, etc.

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 - Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, etc.

Here, the differences between online and in-person teaching can be a bit more complex. Playing audio or video off of physical media during an in-person class session is 100% legal at the University of Minnesota 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 - Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, etc.

There may be some practical differences in outcomes depending on where you post new course videos - on the University's Kaltura platform it is easy to control access at the level of individual videos, and to connect to your course in Canvas. You also can post video to YouTube via your UC San Diego Google account, and the same basic legal provisions 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 - if you encounter something like this that you believe to be in error, you can contact us for assistance.


Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already gotten access to all assigned reading materials. As always, the Libraries' Course Reserves team can help with getting things online - linking to Libraries subscription resources, finding ebooks where available, and much more.

If you want to share additional materials with students yourself 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 Easier to Link!
  • Sharing Copies
  • Multimedia/viewing Listening
  • Open Access and Creative Commons Licensed Content is always a time and money saver!

It's always easiest to link! - COURSE READINGS

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 Library 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, contact us!

Sharing copies - COURSE READINGS

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 (especially in unusual circumstances, or with works that aren't otherwise commercially available) it may even be fair use to make lengthier copies.

University policy affirms that it is an instructors right and responsibility to make their own decisions about when they think they can make copies for students. Libraries staff members can help you understand the relevant issues, and the University will back up instructors making informed and reasonable decisions on these issues.

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 open access content. The Library 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 - COURSE RESOURCES

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 Library already has quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course. The Library also already has subscriptions to a significant set of streaming audio options for UC San Diego users.

We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media, but probably not standard commercial streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+. Passing these subscription costs on to your students is an additional financial burden and not recommended. Consider openly accessible licensed content when at all possible. 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.

Here are some additional resources on copyright issues in shifting courses online:

OWNERSHIP of online course materials

UC San Diego's Copyright Ownership Policy affirms that faculty members and faculty-like employees 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.

UC San Diego Resources and Support

More resources

Copyright for Campus Closures: Exploring the Copyright Issues around Moving Instruction and Reference Online (ACRL) with speaker Sara R. Benson. Webinar recording and Slides 

Scholarly Communication at the UC San Diego Library

Image credit: Tomás Saraceno. Stillness in Motion - Cloud Cities. CC-BY 2.0 Paul Haahr. Accessed on Flickr.