Staff members and librarians at CU Boulder Libraries are working hard to support instructors' needs for resources and information as they rapidly shift to an online teaching environment. Information presented here is meant to proactively address questions concerning copyright and teaching 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.
(This document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 19, 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 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.
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 under a provision of copyright law called the “Face-to-Face Teaching Classroom Use Exemption” (17 USC 110(1)). However, that exemption doesn’t cover playing the same media online. Fair use or the “TEACH Act” can help in determining what is doable in an online classroom environment. For instance, the TEACH Act (17 USC 110(2)) directly authorizes performance of musical works, or “reasonable and limited portions” of videos. A fair use analysis (17 USC 107) might also be appropriate. Finally, if you need to use media in ways that are not authorized by the TEACH Act or fair use, and the CU Boulder Libraries do not provide access to the content, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of lecture videos. Some further options are outlined below.
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 can also post video for long-term storage and use on a number of cloud services:
|Google Drive||Unlimited (5 TB file maximum size)||None|
|OneDrive||Unlimited storage quota with 10 GB maximum file size||None|
|YouTube||No Limit (20 GB per video limit)||None|
|Dropbox||2 GB free||Purchase additional storage over 2 GB.|
Some of the platforms, such as YouTube have automated copyright enforcement tools. These tools often incorrectly 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
As always, we invite you to link to the Libraries subscription resources, ebooks, and other electronically available content. We encourage you to keep a few guidelines in mind as you do so:
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, please review our Creating Durable Links guide or contacting email@example.com.
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. Learn more about fair use and explore some sample scenarios.
Ultimately, 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 (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
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 publicly online content. The Libraries may also be able to direct you to resources for requesting formal copyright permissions, such as RightsLink, in order to provide copies to students - but there may be some issues with getting permissions on short timelines.
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. The Libraries also already have subscriptions to a significant set of video options for learners: Swank, Kanopy and Alexander Street Press are a few popular options.
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 option. (For exclusive content, the commercial services may be the only option.) Students would need their own personal accounts to access commercial streaming content. 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:
Public Statement: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research
COVID-19, Copyright, & Library Superpowers (Part I) | Kyle Courtney
COVID-19, Copyright, & Library Superpowers (Part II) | Kyle Courtney
Terry Fisher's Guide to Emergency Online Pedagogy
Policy location: https://www.cu.edu/ope/aps/1014
Under APS #1014 and Regent Policy 5.k, faculty receive from the University an assignment of ownership in the educational materials that they create.
As a result of APS #1014, faculty are free to publish and license many of the educational, scholarly, and artistic materials that they create. Faculty may choose to license their educational materials with Creative Commons licenses, for example, which are widely used by authors/creators to license open educational resources (OER).
APS #1014 creates some exceptions to the general rule of faculty ownership. These can include educational materials that result from funded research/technology, and cases where the University invests very significantly in the faculty member’s work and may therefore have an ownership interest in the educational materials. Additionally, intellectual property created by classified and university staff in the course of their University duties belongs to the University.
If you have questions about your ability under APS #1014 to license the educational materials that you create or adapt, begin a conversation with your department chair or associate dean. Your department chair/dean can consider your questions and consult with University Counsel as appropriate.