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Faculty Resources for Transitioning Online

Copyright and Moving Your Course Online

(This document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 17, 2020.)

There are a lot of pedagogical and technical issues that make the shift from in-person to online teaching challenging, but copyright should not be 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 (with a few exceptions), especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students.

Recorded videos, online lectures, online slides, 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 more of 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 off of physical media (such as a DVD, BluRay, or CD) during an in-person class session is 100% legal at Mercer University 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 linked content outside of your lecture videos. 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. 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, but these automated enforcement tools are often incorrect when they flag audio, video, or images included in instructional videos.

Course readings and other resources

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already gotten access to all assigned reading materials. You can always contact a librarian if you need help getting certain readings online, finding articles and eBooks, 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 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 Library is also a great option - a lot of our subscription content will have DOIs, permanent URLs, or other "permalink" options, all of which should work even for off-campus users. For assistance linking to any particular libraries subscription content, contact

  • 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, 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.

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.

  • 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. Mercer University Library already has quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course (i.e. Kanopy, Alexander Street Video, Films On Demand, and NAXOS Music Library).

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. Provisions are made for this through the TEACH ACT, codified TEACH Act in 17 U.S.C. § 110(2).

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

Ownership of online course materials

Mercer University's Copyright Policy (Section 3.14) affirms that faculty and staff ordinarily own the copyright in their academic works, including instructional course content. Some of these rights may also vest in Mercer to the extent that a course (or some portion of it) is acquired or commissioned by Mercer under Article I, Section C of this Policy.

More Questions? Need help?

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*Guide adapted from "Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online" from the University of Minnesota and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial License.

This work by Mercer University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License