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Research Guides

Copyright Introduction: Copyright and Remote Teaching in Covid Pandemic

Introduction to copyright including exclusive rights, copyright duration, and fair use

Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to remote

There are a lot of pedagogical and technical issues that make the shift from in-person to online teaching challenging but copyright shouldn't be a big additional area of worry! Many legal issues are similar for both in-person courses or remote teaching. Here’s a quick summary:

1.    Licensed Library resources offer a wealth of media, including articles, books, films, music, and art reproductions. A little linking (from Canvas to database content) goes a very long way! Database content is governed by license agreements.

2.   Open Educational Resources (OER) are available online to everyone, cost nothing to use, and are often adaptable. Open Access (OA) literature is available to everyone online at no cost.

3.    Fair use is flexible and requires thoughtful evaluation. More information about fair use is below as well as in this guide.

4.    Accessibilty is also important to consider. Copyright law does not preclude creating transcripts or captions for course videos and audio. In fact, it normally allows for it. This information will help you get started with accessibility at UW.

It is the right and responsibility of instructors to make their own decisions about the instructional materials they require and make available to their students. In the current online-only environment, UW Libraries staff are focused on supporting our students and researchers by providing additional online materials and support, offering thoughtful and informed copyright information when asked, and addressing the specific, time-bound needs of instructors and students during the spring quarter. While we cannot offer legal advice we are happy to share the information and resources here. 

Course Readings

To share materials with students, or to have students to share resources with each other in an online platform, keep in mind some simple guidelines:

UW Database Content

The UW Libraries have licensed many ejournals, ebooks, and databases. Much of our subscription content has a DOI, PURL, or other "permalink" option, any of which should work for access from off-campus. To share licensed materials, linking from Canvas to database content is likely the safest option. Here are instructions. Why link? Most database licenses allow linking, but not all allow copying and posting articles.

Open Access Resources

Open Access (OA) refers to peer-reviewed scholarly research and literature that is free, online, and openly licensed for sharing. OA repositories preserve and provide access to this material, in the form of articles, preprints, reprints, data, theses, dissertations, and other media. You might consider adding your articles to UW's institutional OA repository, ResearchWorks.

Any material with a Creative Commons (CC) license may be posted “as is” in Canvas, although attribution or credit to the author may be required, so be sure to read the CC license carefully. The more restrictive CC licenses (e.g., the terms ND, NC, or SA) may limit other adaptations and methods of distribution.

The search field on the UW Libraries homepage will connect you to several OA publications. Simply perform a search, then refine your results (on the left side) to OA publications.

Google Scholar allows you to search scholarly articles that are available online. Be aware that it includes works with a wide variety of license terms.

By downloading the Open Access button, you can instruct your browser to search for trustworthy OA versions of content from multiple sources.

Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) is a searchable database of monographs that have been made openly accessible by academic publishers. 

Open Access Directory (OAD) provides a list of OA disciplinary repositories ranging from CORE: OA Repository for the Humanities to, an e-Print archive for the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering, systems science, and economics.

Requests and Permissions

If you need to use something for your class that is not available through the UW Libraries, contact your librarian to inquire whether it can be licensed for your use. If that is not possible, seek formal permission to use the work. Contact your subject librarian or for guidance. Example permission letters are available on this page from Columbia University.

Fair Use

If you wish to copy materials to share with students (by downloading and uploading files, or by scanning from physical documents) consider whether fair use is an option. The fair use provision in the Copyright Act (17 USC §107) seeks to balance the rights of copyright holders with other people’s needs to use copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. In analyzing whether a particular use is a fair use, courts balance four factors:

1) the purpose and character of the use

Fair use allows for the copying and distribution of portions of copyrighted materials to support teaching, education, research, and other socially beneficial uses. As explained in the Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research, the exigent circumstances in the COVID-19 crisis add a strong rationale to support a fair use argument use materials for online instruction during the pandemic. (Please note that the UW did not produce the Public Statement and cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

Additionally, courts have found “transformative” uses more likely to support fair use. A use is more likely to be transformative where it adds something new to the work (such as analysis, commentary, or other annotation), adapts it for a new purpose, or gives it a new character. Further, a transformative use cannot be used as a substitute or replacement for the original work.

2) the nature of the work itself. Highly creative works are more protected than factual ones, although this factor is seldom decisive in a fair use analysis.

3) the amount of the work used. Generally speaking, using less of a work carries less risk. The real consideration is whether just enough (but not too much) of a work is used for a fair purpose.

4) the impact of the use on the market for the original work


If you make digital copies available to students on your class Canvas site, start with a legally obtained copy. Then follow these recommended practices:

Use content that has a clear connection to your course objectives.

Use just as much of the copyright-protected content as necessary for your use.

If practicable, transform the copyright-protected content into a resource just for your course, for example, by limiting portions of each work used, combining portions of  various works to create a new expression of course content, adding annotations, study questions, analysis, or unique juxtapositions. You would turn the content into a pedagogical tool and not offer it for the same purpose for which it was created.

Include copyright notices and attribution. Link to or include information about copyright.

Give students information about their rights and responsibilities related to content in Canvas.

Be extra cautious with materials designed for use in a course, for example textbooks, workbooks, and manuals.

For more information about the fair use factors, best practices, and tools see this guide. If you do not feel confident relying on fair use, a subject specialist librarian may be able to suggest alternative content.

Multimedia Viewing and Listening

The Libraries have a wealth of licensed streaming video content and streaming audio options which you are welcome to use in your online course. To search for an individual title, simply use the Library Search on our homepage and limit your search using these steps.

Many films are distributed only through consumer streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. If you assign a film available through a consumer platform, each student should subscribe individually to the streaming platform to view the film. These services do not offer institutional licenses, so the UW Libraries cannot subscribe to them and provide access to their films to your students. One exception to this is that some Neflix original documentaries are available for one-time educational viewing. You can use Just Watch to search across popular streaming services to find out where to legally watch a video.

We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media on a title by title basis as our budget allows. Use this form to request media that is not available through any of the options above.

Should you wish to stream unlicensed clips from DVDs, copyright law allows faculty to share short portions of motion pictures for educational purposes including criticism, comment, teaching, and scholarship. 

Art, Photography, and More Media

The Libraries have several databases of arts and media content. For assistance, contact a subject librarian.

Additionally, this open resources guide includes sources for media that can be freely used.

Recording Video of Yourself and Livecasting Lectures

In-lecture use of audio or video

Playing audio or video off of legally obtained physical media during an in-person class session is generally legal at the University of Washington under a provision of copyright law (17 U.S.C. §110(1)) called the "Classroom Use Exemption". However, that exemption doesn't cover playing the same media online as part of an online class. 

We can share audio and video online if we meet this detailed set of requirements under the TEACH Act (17 U.S.C. §110(2)), which provides some allowances for distance learning activities. Yet even if you cannot meet all of the TEACH Act requirements, you might still rely on fair use to include audio and video use in your Canvas course pages. You must weigh all four factors of fair use and assess the risk.

Slide Images

If it is legal to show slide images during an in-person class, it is likely legal to show them to students via live video conferencing or in recorded videos.

• As long as your course is shared through authorized course websites, limited to the same enrolled students on Canvas, the legal issues are fairly similar.

Many instructors also post a copy of their slides as a file in their class's Canvas site for students to access after in-person course meetings, which employs the same rationale for fair use.

Additional Help and Information

Contact your library liaison or for further information or assistance.


The text on this page is adapted from “Copyright Considerations for the Harvard Community in Shifting Courses from In-Person to Online During the COVID-19 Crisis” by the Harvard Copyright First Responders, which is adapted from “Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online” by Nancy Sims. Both of those guides as well as this one are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial (CC BY-NC) license.

Maryam Fakouri