Shifting Courses from Face-to-Face to Remote

Many pedagogical and technical issues make the shift from in-person to remote online teaching challenging, but for once, 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 March 14, 2020; minor updates through July 29, 2020.)

Recording or live-casting your lectures

The bulk of remote teaching will look just like your regular class – you’ll be sharing a whiteboard (or substitute!), slides, images and documents, course readings, and perhaps audio and video clips. You may also be recording your class for asynchronous access, and making the recording available to students for later viewing. These guidelines apply to converting residential instruction to remote teaching:

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 concern is primarily restricted versus unrestricted audience, more than “offline” or “online”. 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 in course management systems (Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.) 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 from physical media during an in-person class session is 100% legal under a provision of copyright law called the “Face-to-Face Teaching Classroom Use Exemption” (17 USC 110(1); see also “Section 101(1): You can play it in class!”). However, that exemption doesn’t cover playing the same media online. Fair use or the “TEACH Act” can help in determining what is doable in an online classroom environment. For instance, the TEACH Act (17 USC 110(2)) directly authorizes performance of musical works, or “reasonable and limited portions” of videos. A fair use analysis (17 USC 107) might also be appropriate. (See “fair use” guides.) Finally, if you need to use media in ways that are not authorized by the TEACH Act or fair use, and the UMass Libraries do not provide access to the content, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of lecture videos. Some further options are outlined below.

Where to post your videos

There may be some practical differences in outcomes depending on where you post new course videos.The UMass Libraries offer support for streaming media and developing clip excerpts; materials can be made available via your campus CMS (Moodle or Blackboard). 

You can also post materials yourself on your own course CMS (Moodle or Blackboard); this allows you to easily control access to individual videos, turning off access when it is no longer needed.

You also can post video to YouTube on private “link-access-only”. The same basic legal provisions apply even on YouTube; however, it is always possible for videos posted on YouTube to encounter some automated copyright enforcement, such as a takedown notice, or disabling of included audio or video content. These automated enforcement enforcement tools are error-prone, and may incorrectly flag audio, video, or images included in instructional videos as “copyright infringements” whether they are or not. If you encounter a copyright violation flag or takedown that you believe to be in error, you can contact for assistance. 

Media Resources 

Course readings and other resources

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!

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, a 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 assistance linking to any particular libraries subscription content, check with “Ask a Librarian” Unfortunately, some content may have special restrictions, such as Harvard Business school case studies. Ask your librarian if you are concerned about linking 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. Copying portions of works to share with students will often be fair use.

The Libraries offer copyright consultation with librarians and copyright experts (contact “Ask a Librarian”  or to help you understand the relevant issues. When an instructor doesn’t feel comfortable relying on fair use, a subject specialist librarian may be able to suggest alternative content that is openly available online, or available through library subscriptions. The Libraries also provide services through electronic reserves ( Please make requests as early as possible!

Multimedia viewing/listening

Showing an entire movie or film or musical work online may be a bit more of an issue than playing it in class – but there may be options for your students to access it independently online. The Libraries already have quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course, as well as audio and other content.

To request the Libraries purchase streaming access to particular works, contact your subject specialist librarian. In some cases, commercial streaming options like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney+ may be the easiest or only available option to access content. Students would need their own personal accounts to access content. 

Ownership of online course materials

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Intellectual Property Policy affirms that all staff, faculty members, adjunct professors, and other individuals associated with the university own the copyright in their “exempted scholarly works,” including textbooks, class notes, and classroom presentation and instruction. 

Similarly, 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.

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 at the Libraries for further information or assistance.

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.