Rapidly Shifting Your In-Person Course to Online: Copyright Considerations

NOTE: This guideline document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 16, 2020.

Pedagogical and technical issues may make the shift from in-person to online teaching a challenge, but copyright concerns should not be a significant barrier! Consult Western’s Copyright website and the Centre for Teaching and Learning guide, for additional information regarding converting to online course delivery.

Key points to remember:

  1. Most of the legal issues are the same in both contexts. 
  2. 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 such as via OWL or another institutional learning management system.
  3. You can continue to apply Western’s Copyright Decision Map and Fair Dealing Analysis tool to assist with copyright questions or contact copyright@uwo.ca.

What about Slide Images 

Just as it is legal to show slides with images in class, it is generally legal to show them to students using live video conferencing or recorded videos, as long as your new course video is being shared through a password protected course website like OWL. 

Many instructors routinely post a copy of their slides as a file for students to access after in-person course meetings. In most cases, faculty will own the copyright in or have license to use their slides. However, if you are incorporating third-party materials into your lessons, they should be in keeping with fair dealing or other license agreements.

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 of legally obtained physical media (music or audio-visual materials like DVDs or CDs for example) during an in-person class session is permitted under Section 29.5 of the Copyright Act. However, that exemption generally 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 using your institution's fair dealing guidelines.  Fair dealing generally allows you to use up to about 10% of a copyright protected work to be distributed only to students in your class. For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the 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. You can post video content within your OWL course. Western’s license to ZOOM provides options for video conferencing and streaming of content and can also be restricted to the students in your class only. If you already use services like YouTube to teach, remember to continue to be copyright compliant. Please note that 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. If you encounter something like this that you believe to be in error, you can contact YouTube, or copyright@uwo.ca for assistance. 

 Course readings and other resources 

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already accessed most assigned reading materials. As always, Western Libraries’ Course Readings service can help with getting things online - linking to licensed resources, finding e-books where available, scanning and uploading content, 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 below. 

 It's always easiest to link! 

Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc. is rarely a copyright issue. Of course, it’s better not to link to existing content that looks obviously infringing itself – linking to Joe Schmoe's YouTube video of the entire "Avengers: Endgame" movie is probably not wise. However, linking to most YouTube videos, especially ones that allow sharing and embedding, should be fine. Linking to subscription content through Western Libraries’ subscription databases for online journals and e-book packages is also a great option. Much of the library’s licensed content will have DOIs, PURLs, or other "permalink" or “persistent link” options, all of which should work even for off-campus users. Contact us if you have any questions or need assistance locating and linking to licensed content.

Sharing copies and scanning

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. 

At Western, faculty and instructors are encouraged to read and apply the Copyright Decision Map and our Fair Dealing Analysis tool when making decisions about making copies for students or to post to OWL. Library staff members are available to help faculty understand the relevant issues.

Some app tools that you can use to easily digitize fair dealing amounts of material from your phone to post to OWL are Genius Scan, Adobe Scan. Please keep in mind that you can make any scanned PDF files more accessible for your students by using an optical character recognition (OCR) online tool that can be used to convert "non-selectable" text files into machine-readable or recognized text.

When an instructor needs to make more copyright protected material available to students than the guidelines permit, Western Libraries’ Course Reserves service can assist faculty in making these determinations and can also help you seek formal copyright clearance to provide copies to students – understanding that there may be some issues with requesting and receiving permissions on short timelines. 

You can also search the library catalogue and our databases and other resources which include a large collection of journals and many e-books that can support on-line learning. And again Western Libraries’ staff is here to help!!

Multimedia viewing/listening 

Showing an entire movie or film or musical work online does represent more of a copyright issue than playing it in class - but there may be options for your students to access it independently online. Western already has quite a bit of licensed streaming video content which you are welcome to use in your online course. Remember you can still link to content!

We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media, but as this takes time, standard commercial streaming options like commonly subscribed to services like Netflix, Crave or Disney Plus that students may also subscribe to and can access using their own accounts may sometimes be the easiest option. For exclusive content, the commercial services may be the only option.

Screening a film that is not available online?

 If you have a scheduled film screening and the film is not available digitally through one of our electronic databases, you may be able to conduct a virtual screening using the exception in the Copyright Act (Section 30.01). This exception is not widely used as it includes a variety of requirements, such as:

  • You must not break a technical protection measure when you make the copy. The easiest way to make a copy without breaking a TPM is to use screen capture software that enables the copying of DVD content after the content has been lawfully decrypted by a licensed computer DVD player. More information about copying audiovisual works; 
  • You must clearly post that the copy is being made using this exception such as “You are receiving access to this teaching resource under s. 30.01 of the Copyright Act, for use in this class only. If you retain a copy, this exception requires that you delete the copy 30 days after you have received the final evaluation for the course. 
  • You must delete the copy in the Learning Management System, or password protected location you posted the audiovisual material within 30 days after course evaluations have been issued. 
One way to meet the requirements of this section may be to live-stream the screening.  If you do make a recording, please contact us if you have questions about meeting these requirements.

Ownership of online course materials 

Western’s collective and other staff agreements affirm that faculty members own the copyright in their academic works, including instructional content. Some units and departments have different policies around ownership of course materials at the unit level, but you would likely already be aware of that if it is applicable. Some units may also have some shared expectations of shared -access- to course video for continuity of educational experiences, without those expectations affecting the ownership of the materials. Instructors may want to include language on their course management site or course syllabus that makes it clear that students cannot reuse or re-post their instructor’s course materials without permission. 

University policies also affirm that 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 separately agreed by the student. Please note that students should be aware that posting instructors content from your course to on-line course sharing sites like OneClass or Course Hero can be perceived as an academic integrity issue.

Consult the Copyright website or copyright@uwo.ca, if you have other questions or need additional information about copyright. 

Creative Commons BY-NC

Updated 2020-03-16

This resource is adapted for Western from material prepared by the Copyright Office, University of Minnesota document Copyright Services, Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online. Unless otherwise noted, all content on the Copyright Information section of this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. We would like to acknowledge some contribution of adaptation language from University of Toronto Scholarly Communications & Copyright Office and Ryerson University Library.