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Copyright FAQs for Online Courses

Updated April 2, 2020.

Transitioning your course from in-person to online

There are many 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 concern. Many of the legal issues are similar 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.

How should I share online lectures with students?


If you choose to record your lectures, it is recommended that you share the recordings using a platform that can limit access to enrolled students. Generally, it is not recommended to post recorded lectures publicly on an open platform (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). For guidance on specific platforms recommended for BYU faculty, refer to the Recorded Lecture web page available at teachanywhere.byu.edu.

How does Fair Use apply in emergencies?


Fair use is an exception to the rights of copyright owners which allows you to make limited uses of copyrighted works without the owner’s consent under certain circumstances for teaching purposes. The BYU Fair Use Checklist and BYU Interactive Fair Use Evaluation Log are helpful tools for analyzing fair use.

For information on how many universities are approaching fair use in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, refer to the Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research.

Can I link to online resources?


Generally, yes. Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc. is rarely a copyright issue. As a best practice, it is not recommended to link to existing content that is obviously infringing (e.g., feature films, TV episodes, or other typically-paid content posted to an individual's YouTube channel, lengthy book excerpts posted to an individual's blog, etc.). In addition to protecting you from potential copyright infringement liability, linking to legitimate sources decreases the likelihood of broken links.

How can I find images to display during online lectures?


Many creators freely share their copyrighted images under Creative Commons licenses or on websites with broad terms of use. You are free to use such works as long as you follow the terms set forth in the license agreement. For a list of royalty-free image resources, visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website. You might also consider whether your use of a particular image falls within the scope of fair use.

How can I deliver audiovisual material to students during online lectures?


Playing video or audio from physical media in the course of face-to-face teaching is permitted under the "Classroom Exemption" ( 17 U.S.C. 110(1)). But that exemption does not cover transmitting the same media to students remotely in the course of online teaching. Whenever possible, you should play only brief clips of video or audio materials during online lectures. If it is absolutely necessary for your students to access longer portions or full-length works, you should direct them to access the materials independently, outside of your online lectures.

There are a variety of resources available to BYU students to access audiovisual materials independently. For example, the BYU Library has video and audio streaming options available to students. If the Library does not have a title available for streaming, standard commercial streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ will likely be the easiest option. (For exclusive content, the commercial services may be the only option.) You can find more information about movie and music resources on the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.

Where there are no other options, fair use may sometimes allow performance of an entire work, but this is not often the case. If you are unable to locate streaming options, please contact the BYU Copyright Licensing Office for assistance.

How can I share text (book chapters, articles, etc.) with my students?

As always, the Library Course Reserve staff can help with making materials available to students online, linking to Library resources, finding ebooks where available, obtaining licenses from copyright holders when needed, and much more. If you want to share additional materials with students yourself, keep in mind some simple guidelines:

  • Linking to authorized online sources is a preferred option.
  • Directing students to subscription content available through the BYU Library is also a great option. For assistance linking to any particular Library content, contact library_reserve@byu.edu.
  • Copying entire works is generally not recommended. Alternatively, copying limited portions of works to share with students will often be fair use. (The Fair Use Checklist and Interactive Fair Use Evaluation Log are helpful tools for analyzing fair use.)

More copyright questions? Need help?

Contact the BYU Copyright Licensing Office for further assistance.