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Copyright and Fair Use

Information on copyright law and fair use in an academic setting

Rapid Transition to Online Learning

[Last updated 3/20/2020]

The contexts surrounding COVID-19 are rapidly shifting; guidance presented here may change. 

As Shippensburg University faculty rapidly transition courses from in-person to online instruction, there are questions to consider about sharing materials online. Ship's Copyright Compliance Guidance (for determining allowable use) and Article 39 of the Faculty CBA [PDF link] (for determining copyright of course content delivery) are helpful as we navigate this time of challenge. For the most part, anything that you could legally copy or display in your classroom you can display in your online classroom.

In general, proceed as you have always done

  • Link to existing licensed content when possible. Your Library Liaison can help you locate licensed material and identify stable links to that material so that it will work from off campus.
  • Perform a Fair Use analysis as usual. It is an instructor’s right and responsibility to make their own decisions about making copies for students.
    • See more guidance below for Fair Use During a National Crisis.
    • See guidance below for Special Considerations for Multimedia Viewing/Listening.  
  • Seek permission or alternative content as needed. Your Liaison Librarian can work with you to investigate whether alternative content is accessible that would help you achieve your learning goals.

Fair Use During National Crises

You may have heard of other institutions that have decided they are willing to digitize full books, films, etc. during this period of crisis. Legal opinion is still hotly divided on this issue.

Shippensburg faculty should continue to follow our current policies and practices: seeking licensed material when we can, making Fair Use analyses as usual, and seeking permission or alternative content when the first two options fail. That said, Fair Use does not codify “10%” or “1 chapter” into law. 

Fair Use is a flexible measure that balances Four Factors and is intended to allow for the reproduction of materials for teaching, criticism, and comment. The more limited the amount you reproduce, the better, but the idea is to use just enough of a work to achieve your learning goals.

Special Considerations for Multimedia

Digitizing and showing entire films or audio performances is often not advisable. We recognize that there is currently a plethora of conflicting information from the many institutions wrestling with this issue, but the College’s assessment is that our current extraordinary circumstances do not change the laws that prohibit copying or distributing multimedia works, particularly the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Consult with Aaron Dobbs, Scholarly Communication Librarian, if you have questions or concerns about Copyright as you convert your courses. 

  • Select films or audio that are already available online, either openly available on the internet or through library subscriptions, and link to those. For content primarily available through Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, etc, consider building your syllabus around one of those platforms and having students temporarily subscribe to those services as if they were buying a textbook. (Note that international access to these platforms may vary considerably.)
  • Work with your Library Liaison to find alternative content that would serve your learning goals.
  • Choose brief clips that are more likely to be considered Fair Use. 
  • Seek permission from the copyright holder, bearing in mind that this can take some time. 

Recording Yourself; Live-casting Lectures

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. 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.

Uploading your course content and instructional video

D2L Brightspace and Google Drive are very good options for uploading your instruction content because they allow you to easily restrict access to ONLY those students who are enrolled in your course. This restriction aids your Fair Use analysis significantly and allows you to make decisions as if you were teaching face-to-face (except in the case of multimedia works, as discussed above).

When uploading videos to YouTube and similar platforms, it is more likely that you will encounter automated copyright enforcement such as a takedown notice or disabled audio or video content. These automated enforcement tools are often incorrect, and can be appealed, but they may add unnecessary complications to your process.

Ownership of Online Content

The Faculty CBA and Ship Copyright Policy affirms that faculty, staff, and students own the copyrights in their academic works, including instructional content and submitted coursework

Acknowledgements: Much of this page adapts content originally created by Nancy Sims for the University of Minnesota. Her work is licensed under a CC-BY license.

Additional resources about Copyright considerations when transitioning course content online