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Copyright Guidance for Online or Dual Modality Instruction

There are many pedagogical and technical issues that make the shift from in-person to online or dual modality teaching challenging. However, copyright law should not be a big additional area of concern as most of the legal issues are the same in each context. If it was okay to do in the physical classroom, it is often okay to do online or in dual modality, especially when access to material is limited to enrolled students.

A good place to start is with this page in combination with the Wheaton College Copyright Guide, section 14, "Learning Management System (LMS)."  Fair Use is (as usual) an option and an amplified one in these difficult times. See Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research, an informational guide authored by leading copyright librarians on the issue of applying Fair Use in emergency circumstances.

Use the following links to readily navigate to each section.

Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, etc.
Course readings and other resources
Ownership of online course materials
More questions? Need help?

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

Slide images
If it was legally permissible to show slide images in an in-person class, it is generally legally permissible to show them to students via live video conferencing or in recorded videos within Canvas. This may be a surprise if you have heard that there is a big difference between in-person class lecture slides and online conference slides – but the issue is usually less about offline versus online, and more about the classroom aspect and narrowly restricted audience. As long as your new course video is being shared through Canvas and limited to 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 legally permissible under a provision of copyright law called the “Classroom Use Exemption.” Normally, that exemption does not apply to those wishing to play media clips online. You are encouraged to limit audio and video use for your online course to relatively brief clips, which is already generally acceptable according to Fair Use guidelines. If you wish to have video clips from physical media (e.g. VHS, DVD, Blu Ray) available for use in your in-person or online class, be sure to fill out the Video Clip Digitization Request Form.

Remember, too, that the library has a significant amount of streaming video content available for you to use. You can check with your subject librarian to see if the library can acquire rights to stream films through third-party services like Kanopy, Swank, or Alexander Street Press.



Course readings and other resources

Hopefully, your students already have access to assigned reading materials with plenty of advanced notice.

If you want to share additional materials with students in Canvas 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:

Linking is the best practice
Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc. rarely presents copyright law issues. (Better not to link to existing content that looks obviously infringing itself – for instance, a random YouTube video of the entire “Black Panther” movie is probably not a reliable link. But Steve Someone’s 2-minute video of himself and his best friend talking over a few of the pivotal scenes would likely constitute Fair Use and is not something you should worry about linking to.)

Linking to subscription content through the library is still the preferred, best practice approach. For help understanding how to link to the library's online content, the library has provided a detailed set of instructions.

Sharing copies
Making copies for students (by downloading and uploading files, or by scanning from physical documents) can present copyright law issues. However, these issues are no different than 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. Copying portions of works to share with students will often be considered Fair Use. Please email your subject librarian or Steve Oberg ( for further guidance if you wish to copy more than would normally be considered acceptable under Fair Use guidelines into your Canvas course for the benefit of your students.

Keep in mind that instructors make their own decisions about whether they think a specific use is a Fair Use when making copies for students. Again, your subject librarian or Steve Oberg ( can provide additional guidance as needed.

Where an instructor does not feel comfortable relying on Fair Use, a subject librarian may be able to suggest alternative content that is already online through library subscriptions or publicly available sources


Ownership of online course materials

Faculty members and instructors own the copyright in their academic works, including instructional content. Some units and departments may have existing policies around ownership and course videos, which continue to govern in those areas. Some units may also have expectations of shared access to course videos for continuity of educational experiences, without those expectations affecting the ownership of the materials.

The Wheaton College Copyright Guide also affirms that students own the copyright in their own coursework. Instructors can require them to submit it in particular formats, but students continue to own their works unless a separate agreement is signed by the student.


More questions? Need help?

Contact your subject librarian or Steve Oberg ( for further information or assistance.


Adapted from “A Copyright Guide to Rapidly Shifting Your In-Person Class Online” by Sara Benson, University of Illinois Library, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.