Copyright Guidance & COVID-19

Copyright Guidance for Remote and Online Teaching


There are a lot of pedagogical and technical issues that make the shift from in-person to online/remote 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 12, 2020.)

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

Remote teaching involves the sharing of slides, images, documents, course readings, and audio/video clips.  You may also be recording videos of your class for asynchronous access by students at a later time.  The following guidelines will help you understand how to remain in compliance with copyright law as you transition to online/remote instruction.   

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 within the bounds of copyright law under a provision of the Copyright Act called the "Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption." However, that exemption does not 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 TEACH Act or a 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. For more information on the TEACH Act, please access this Tool Kit.  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 AsULearn platform it is easy to control access at the level of individual videos. You also can post videos to YouTube, 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; they fail to account for fair use.  If you encounter something like this that you believe to be in error, you can contact the Appalachian State University Scholarly Communications Office for assistance.

Course readings and other resources

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already gotten 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.  Please use your best judgment and avoid linking to existing content that may be infringing, such as a pirated copy of a recent feature film.  

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 subscription content through Appalachian's Belk Library, contact your Librarian Liaison for guidance.  

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 already know not to do that anyway.  Copying portions of copyrighted works to share with students will often be fair use.

At Appalachian State University, faculty are entrusted to make determinations about whether fair use permits them to scan and share library materials. The Scholarly Communications Office can help you understand the relevant issues.

If, as an instructor, you don'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.  Belk Library and the Scholarly Communications Office may also be able to help you seek formal copyright permissions to provide copies to students – but there may be some issues and delays 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.  Belk Library already has some licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course.  We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media depending on available funds.  

Other Multimedia Resources

Ownership of online course materials 

The Appalachian State University Intellectual Property Policy affirms that faculty members own the copyright in their academic work, including instructional content.  This policy also affirms that students own the copyright in their own coursework. Instructors can require them to submit coursework in particular formats, but the students continue to own their works unless a separate agreement is signed by the student.

Converting DVDs into streaming/digital files

In general, Belk Library cannot convert DVDs into streaming/digital files for classroom or personal use.  Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prevents the circumvention of technological measures that are set up to protect copyrighted content.  

However, some exceptions apply.  Faculty may request the conversion of "short portions" of a DVD for the purposes of criticism and comment for documentary filmmaking, for making content accessible to students with disabilities, and for other educational purposes.  Other educational purposes may include using "short portions" of converted content for criticism, comment, teaching, and scholarship, or for use in classes where film and media are closely analyzed.  Posting "short portions" of converted files in course management systems, such as AsULearn, must be protected by technological measures that prevent the further dissemination of the work by students and faculty.  

Decisions to convert "short portions" of copyrighted work on DVDs are made on a case-by-case basis and must comply with guidance published by the U.S. Copyright Office.  DVDs that are in the public domain do not fall under the DMCA. 

In order to lawfully obtain streaming/digital videos, please work with your Collections Management Liaison to determine if a streaming license may be purchased from Acquisitions for the content in question.  Alternative sources for streaming content may also be available from open sources.  If you have any questions, please contact Scholarly Communications

To access free streaming content, please consider the following sources:

More Questions? Need help?

Contact the Scholarly Communications Office 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.