Copyright During COVID-19

Empty desks in classroom

Copyright Considerations for the Princeton University Community in Shifting Your Course from In-Person to Online During COVID-19


The University’s administration, including Library staff, staff members at McGraw Center, and counsel in the Office of the General Counsel, continue working hard to support instructors’ needs for resources and information as they rapidly shift to an online teaching environment. Information presented here is meant to address proactively questions concerning copyright and teaching online. Please navigate to:

Many pedagogical and technical issues make the shift from in-person to online teaching challenging, yet copyright is not an additional area of great concern. Most of the legal issues may be analyzed similarly in both contexts.

  • If something was permissible to do in class, it will often be permissible to do in a fully online classroom environment, especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students.
  • However, please continue to take accessibility requirements and needs into account. Copyright law does not preclude creating transcripts or captions for course videos and audio. In fact, it normally allows for it for accessibility purposes.

If you have any copyright questions regarding online teaching and learning, please email [email protected].

Recording video of yourself, live-casting lectures, and more

Slide Images

If it was permissible to show slide images in class, it is likely permissible to show them to students via live video conferencing or in recorded videos.

  • As long as your course is being shared through authorized course websites, limited only to the same enrolled students on Blackboard or Canvas, the copyright issues are quite similar.
  • Many instructors routinely post a copy of their slides 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

Playing audio or video off of physical media during an in-person class session is permissible under a provision of copyright law called the “Classroom Use Exemption” (17 U.S.C. §110(1)). However, that exemption doesn't cover playing the same media online.

If you can limit audio and video use for your course to relatively brief clips that are academically relevant, you may be able to include those in 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 from legitimate sources outside of your lecture videos.

For technical help sharing video clips with students:

Course readings and other resources

If you want to share additional readings with students or if you want students to share more resources with each other in an online discussion board, keep in mind some simple guidelines.

Remember: it is best to always include a copyright notice from the original source and appropriate citations and attributions.

It's good to link!

Linking to content from Princeton University Library, open access repositories, or publicly available content can be an easy and low-risk way for your class to access materials online.

Sharing copies

If you are making digital copies of materials for your class through Blackboard or Canvas, here are some additional considerations:

  • Making copies of materials for students (by downloading and uploading files or by scanning from physical documents) can present 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. Please consider the fair use factors to assess the risk and help you make your decision. For example, only use as much of the original as is necessary to serve your purpose. Do not use more than necessary to serve the pedagogical purpose - limit copies to what is absolutely necessary to complete the class.  Also, avoid uses that substitute for purchasing available copies.
  • These copies should be limited to the course participants, so uploading them to Blackboard or Canvas should be more protected than uploading them to an open or public site.
  • Where an instructor doesn't feel comfortable relying on fair use or it doesn’t apply, you may contact your subject librarian for suggestions of alternative content through our subscriptions or publicly available content including open access resources, or work with our library’s Reserves Team to provide copies in blackboard or Canvas.

Multimedia viewing/listening

Sharing an entire movie or musical work online is typically more of an issue than playing it in class, but there may be options for your students to access it independently online.

  • Kanopy Streaming Video. This is a library subscribed resource, offering a selection of international feature films, documentaries, foreign language, TV series, and training videos from thousands of leading producers.
  • Streaming music resources. PUL offers music resources, such as access to Met Opera on Demand and music libraries.
  • If for some reason you need a film or other media for your course but it is not part of our subscription, please recommend a purchase to us.

More Questions? Need help?

Contact [email protected] for further information or assistance regarding copyright.

This guide is adapted from “Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online” by Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota Libraries, and “Copyright Consideration for the Harvard Community in Shifting Courses form IN-person to Online During the COVID-19 Crisis” by Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication.

(This document is evolving and subject to change. Last updated March 26, 2020. This document is under CC_BY Creative Commons License 4.0.)