Copyright Questions for Teaching a Course Remotely

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.

Below is a list of common areas for copyright questions around remote teaching. If you have a question that is not covered here, please reach out to Paige Morgan, the Digital Publishing and Copyright Librarian. Paige is available via email (, and happy to meet via Zoom as well. You can make appointments with Paige through her Calendly site — once you have booked a slot, Paige will contact you to figure out the best way to communicate (phone, Zoom, etc.). 

Understanding and interpreting Fair Use law in re: classroom materials

Fair Use law allows you to use copyrighted material without asking for permission, or paying any sort of royalty or licensing fee — in certain contexts, including education. It allows for flexibility that is vital for educators adapting to the uncertainties of the coronavirus. Copyright experts from throughout the US and Canada (part of the University Intellectual Property Officers group) have put together a statement explaining how fair use law works in public health crises such as the current pandemic. You can read that statement here: Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research. To do a fair use analysis for any copyrighted material that you wish to use in your class, use this Fair Use Checklist to make an assessment.

 Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, sharing audio/video material, 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 containing the slides 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 Delaware 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. When you post clips of copyrighted material, it is good practice to include a statement noting that the material you’ve posted is under copyright, made available for the purposes of this class, and not for sharing or reuse outside of this class. 

For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos. The University of Delaware Library Film and Video Collection and Film and Video Librarian Meghann Matwichuk can help you find the best available option. For more info, and to contact Meghann, see our page on Continuity Planning for Media Content for Film and Video.

Where to upload and post your videos

There may be some practical differences in outcomes depending on where you upload and post new course videos. UDCapture can allow you to create UDel links to content in YouTube, or allow you to upload media from your computer. You can control who has access to these links, and this content. Posting them to a Canvas site where video is restricted to students is a safe bet. 

You also can post video to YouTube, and the same basic legal provisions for fair use 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. Unfortunately, there is no good system for restoring access to videos that have been blocked on YouTube for copyright violations. This is another good reason to post content to Canvas.

Course readings and other resources

Although we had more time to prepare for teaching remotely this fall, the situation is dynamic and still unpredictable. If your plans for teaching change, and you want to share additional readings with students as you revise – 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 see this guide.

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. When you post printed copyrighted material, it is good practice to include a statement noting that the material you’ve posted is under copyright, made available for the purposes of this class, and not for sharing or reuse outside of this class.

At the University of Delaware, faculty are entrusted to make determinations about whether fair use permits them to scan and share library materials. If you’re uncertain about whether you’re understanding the relevant issues, contact Paige Morgan, Digital Publishing and Copyright Librarian.

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 online through library subscriptions, or publicly online content. The Libraries may also be able to help you seek formal copyright permissions to provide copies to students – but it is doubtful, given the scope of the current health crisis, that you would be able to get explicit permission in a timely manner.

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 Library subscribes to streaming media databases which provide access to 70,000+ titles, and some of your films may already be available as eVideos.  eVideos appear in DELCAT, so you may wish to search for your titles there as a first step.

The Library may be able to purchase institutional streaming access for additional video titles.  You may consider directing your students to use standard consumer streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, The Criterion Channel and Disney+ via temporary subscriptions or low-cost digital rentals as low-cost course texts.  These services are sometimes the only streaming option available (especially for content produced by these services).  Please note:  usage terms for these consumer-based services prohibit the redistribution of their content through screensharing tools. While fair use law might support your screensharing in order to show short excerpts, content providers frequently add Digital Rights Management to prevent this.

Ownership of online course materials

The University of Delaware Faculty Handbook affirms that copyright ownership of textbooks, manuscripts, other print materials, etc., produced by the individual effort of the author, as well as any resulting royalties, accrue to the benefit of the author. If the University incurs some incremental costs during the preparation of the material, the author must reimburse the University for these expenses to obtain full equity in the copyright.

In general, 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, which grants the instructor the right to share or otherwise use their work.

More Questions? Need help?

Contact Paige Morgan ( for further information or assistance.

Adapted from “Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online” by Brandon Butler, University of Virginia Libraries; and Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota Libraries, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

This page was last updated January 19, 2021 11:32am