While pedagogical and technical issues make the shift from in-person to online teaching challenging, 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 May 14, 2020.)

Table of Contents


Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, 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, 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 on Sakai 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 via  physical media during an in-person class session is 100% legal in a classroom situation under a provision of copyright law called the “Classroom Use Exemption.” However, that exemption doesn’t cover playing the same media online even if access to that online environment is restricted to students enrolled in the course.”

If you can limit audio and video use for your course to relatively brief clips, you may be able to incorporate those into 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 content outside of your lecture videos. Some further options are outlined below. If you aren’t sure what constitutes a “brief clip,” send your question to copyright-questions@duke.edu and we will talk you through this.

Where to post your videos

There may be some practical differences in outcomes depending on where you post course videos for students to view — some of these differences are described below.

  • Warpwire: Duke provides support for this service in order to make it easier to stream video content as part of existing content management tools (i.e., Sakai). This platform is used primarily for streaming content that you create (i.e., not licensed or copyrighted). You can find information about why and how to use Warpwire with Sakai through Duke Learning Innovation.
  • Duke Zoom: it is easy to control access at the level of individual videos, and to connect to your course in Sakai.
  • Duke Libraries e-reserves: Duke Libraries provides streaming for audio-visual materials required for course reserves. Use this form to request materials be added to e-reserves.

If neither of these hosting options work for your material, contact ScholarWorks@duke.edu and we will work with you to see what other options may be available.

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:

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. For instance, the shaky hand-held camera recording of the entire “Black Panther” movie, uploaded to YouTube by Joe Schmoe, 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 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 technical assistance linking to any particular subscription content, contact Duke Libraries IT Support.  Duke’s subscription may provide some content that has special restrictions, such as Harvard Business school case studies. Ask your librarian if you are concerned about access to particular content.

Sharing copies

Copying materials — from downloading and uploading files to scanning physical documents — poses the same copyright issues for use with students in a physical classroom as for use in a distance learning environment. 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.

Libraries staff members can help you understand the relevant issues regarding making copies for students (contact copyright-questions@duke.edu).  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. The Libraries may also be able to help you seek formal copyright permissions to provide copies to students through electronic reserves. Because we anticipate heavy demand, please make requests as early as possible.

Multimedia viewing/listening

  • Streaming Video
    • To request that a required film be made available to your students, please use our online request form, “Place Items on Reserve,” linked from the Libraries’ Course Reserves page. For supplemental viewing or for students’ individual projects, the Libraries provide access to subscription and licensed streaming video content for Duke users. See this guide to finding film and video at Duke. The Libraries may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media titles, but consumer streaming options like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ may be alternatives, and for exclusive content, these services may be the only option since Libraries’ cannot license these titles. Please feel free to contact our Librarian for Film, Video & Digital Media for more information.
  • Audio

Ownership of online course materials

Duke’s policies affirm the traditional commitment to the personal ownership of intellectual property rights —  including instructional content. Some units may also have some expectations of shared -access- to course video for continuity of educational experiences, without those expectations affecting the ownership of the materials.

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 separate agreement is signed by the student.  The Scholarly Communications toolkit has links to forms you can use when student video and coursework arises in the online context.

Instructors may wish to inform or remind students about classroom policies regarding sharing course materials. For instance, if an instructor does not want students to share slide decks or study guides outside of the course management system, the instructor should remind students of this, and may wish to include notices about this in course content.

More Questions? Need help?

  • Contact copyright-questions@duke.edu for further information or assistance related to using copyrighted material. We will respond as quickly as possible, and schedule a time to talk by phone or Zoom if appropriate.
  • Need a copyright question answered in a hurry? A group of University Information Policy Officers (copyright experts from leading American universities, including Duke) is offering virtual office hours throughout the day via Zoom. See this Google Doc for who is available when, and how to connect via Zoom. You can ask your question and get an answer in real time from a trusted expert on copyright issues related to teaching and research.
  • Contact course reserves specialists for further information and assistance with e-reserves: perkins-reserves@duke.edu (Perkins Library); lilly-requests@duke.edu (Lilly Library/video); or music-requests@duke.edu (Music Library).
  • Contact Duke Libraries IT Support with issues related to linking to Libraries content.
  • Contact Duke Learning Innovation for practical help with overall course and assignment design, as well as technical topics such as adding content to Sakai, or sharing presentations via Zoom.

March 2020 – 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