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Copyright: COVID-19 Copyright & Fair Use Guidelines

Statement on Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research

Copyright law in the United States is made to support teaching, research, and learning.

It is evident that, to a significant extent and within reason, making materials available and accessible to students in this time of crisis is likely to be a fair use. Fair use (17 USC 107) allows copyrighted material to be used in certain circumstances for purposes such as teaching, research, criticism, and news reporting, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder.

Even under normal circumstances, courts favor educational uses because of their broad public benefits. As long as we are being thoughtful in our analysis and limiting our activities to the specific needs of our patrons during this time of crisis, copyright law supports our uses. Limitations include:

  • restricting access to course materials only to students, instructors, or teaching assistants enrolled in the course
  • providing content only for the period of time needed
  • excerpting materials when pedagogically appropriate

The fair use doctrine accommodates the flexibility required by our shared public health crisis, enabling society to function and progress while protecting human life and safety.

This statement is adapted from the Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research.


*See our Copyright & Teaching Frequently Asked Questions page for more detailed responses to some of these questions*

Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online

The bulk of remote teaching will look just like your regular class – you’ll be sharing slides, images, documents, course readings, and perhaps audio and video clips. You may also be recording your class and making the recording available to students for later viewing. From a copyright perspective, in most (but not all) cases 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.

Recording or streaming video of your 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. This may be a surprise if you have heard that there is a big difference between class lecture slides and online conference slides - but that issue pertains to a restricted (closed) versus an unrestricted (open) audience, not simply offline versus online.

Many instructors routinely post a copy of their slides in Canvas 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 copyrighted audio or video from physical media (such as a DVD) during an in-person class session is legal under a provision of copyright law called the “Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption.” In person, these works may be played in their entirety in the classroom if such a use supports the pedagogical goals of the course.

However, that exemption doesn’t cover playing the same media for online class session. In short, 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 fair use. If the video shown during an online class session is from a physical video (such as a DVD) protected by technology that controls access to copyrighted works (as most DVDs are), the law permits showing only short portions of that video in an online class session. In general, you may not circumvent technical protection measures to copy and show a full-length video from a DVD for use in teaching, even if it is restricted to enrolled students only.

Where to post your videos

You can use the Studio function on the University's Canvas platform for storing videos as well as recording content for courses such as screen-captures and webcam updates. See the suite of help tutorials on Studio created by ITLE under the Studio dropdown menu.

Multimedia outside your lecture videos

For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos. The OSU Library subscribes to some academic streaming video collections, including the following.

  • Streaming (OSU Libraries Search)  Filter on the left or at the top of the page type additional words in the advanced search
  • Alexander Street Press  Streaming Sony Picture Classics, World Cinema, Filmakers Library, LGBT Studies & Black Studies, New World Cinema, Silent Film Online, and educational videos of all kinds
  • Criterion Collection  Use the filters on the lower left to select Availability (DVD or streaming) and Subject (e.g. Foreign Films)
  • Kanopy  Browse streaming video selected for courses.
  • Netflix Documentaries  Netflix original documentaries available for educational use (requires Netflix account)

Course readings

Hopefully, by mid-semester, your students have already received 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:

It’s always easiest to link!

If students can use publicly available online content to complete their assignments, then linking in Canvas to that content (for example, open access articles, news websites, online videos, etc.) is rarely a copyright issue. Avoid linking to third-party content that looks obviously infringing itself; for example, books and articles uploaded to pages other than the publisher, or films uploaded to a random person's YouTube channel. Articles or recorded video that analyze or criticize a book or film may be fair use, and is not something you should worry about linking to.

Linking to subscription content through by 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. If you need help linking to Libraries subscription resources, finding ebooks where available, finding alternative materials, etc., please reach out to your liaison librarian.

The best option is to link to the item from the OSU Library Search on the library website. Search for the article, click on it in the results, and then click the Permalink button. By sharing that link, students will be prompted to login with their OKEY credentials to gain access to the article.

Screenshot of OSU library catalog with Permalink option highlighted

Before linking to Harvard Business content, ask Victor Baeza for assistance.

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. In short, 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. It’s better not to make copies of entire works – but most instructors don’t do that!

The University of Minnesota has created an excellent Thinking Through Fair Use tool you can use to help you make this decision. Reach out to OSU Scholarly Services Librarian Clarke Iakovakis at with questions. Where an instructor doesn’t feel comfortable relying on fair use, your liaison librarian may be able to suggest alternative content that is already online through library subscriptions, or publicly available content.

Kathy Essmiller, the OSU Open Educational Resources Librarian, has created a guide to help you find free and open educational content, available at

Ownership of online course materials

Oklahoma State University's Intellectual Property Policy affirms that creators own the copyright in their academic works, including instructional content, unless they were entitled to receive additional compensation above base pay and did not have a separate agreement with the university . Some units may have some shared expectations of shared -access- to course video for continuity of educational experiences, without those expectations affecting the ownership of the materials.

The same university Intellectual Property Policy also affirms that students own the copyright in their own coursework "unless it is conceived, created, or developed in the course of the student’s University employment or with more than incidental use of University resources."

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.


The material in this statement was originally written by Nancy Sims, Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota, available at Additional adaptations from Duke, Penn State and UMass Amherst were incorporated.

CC BY NC logo This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) License.