Moving to online teaching creates copyright issues

Online teaching creates new obstacles for faculty when navigating copyright restrictions. The main copyright issue when moving a face-to-face course online is that you no longer can rely on an exception in the Copyright Act that allows you to display and perform material without permission or license in face-to-face classrooms. That means if you want to upload a digital version of the same material, you will need to either fit it into another exception (fair use or TEACH act) or get a license for the material. As the university’s copyright officer, I can help you work through this analysis and the licensing process. Email me at

The best way to provide students with access to copyrighted materials online is to link to University Libraries materials. You will need to link to the content using what we call a “permalink” – this link includes the Texas State proxy information so that students can get access to the articles and chapters seamlessly. Contact me or your subject librarian for help finding permalinks to library materials. If the library doesn’t subscribe to the material you need, you may still be able to upload excerpts from books if you can establish a fair use argument for copying and sharing it. The current permissible legal standard is about five percent or less of a book. For amounts greater than five percent, you can license the excerpts. University Libraries has a Copyright Permission Service that will help you sort through fair use and licensing. We pay the cost of the licensing fees and do the paperwork. Note that you can’t usually rely on fair use to upload entire journal articles. In most cases, we must license any articles that the library doesn’t subscribe to. Contact me for more information about relying on fair use or purchasing licenses for articles and chapters.

Another option is to ask the library to scan materials it has in print form. Because physical reserves are no longer accessible to students who are learning remotely, we are offering a temporary scanning service for all Texas State students. The library can scan copies of our print materials and send students a digital file. Faculty can continue to request instructional materials, however, all other requests for students, staff, and faculty needing research materials should be made using our scanning request form. If you have any questions, I can help you assess the copyright issues with using scanned material.

Finally, one of the most difficult copyright challenges in moving online is accessing video content. Linking to online openly available resources is usually not a problem with copyright, but you must make sure that content is captioned so that it’s accessible. If you can’t find it online, you can use our Library Request system and  University Libraries can purchase it for you.  We can’t digitize and upload entire films from DVDs or VHS, but we can buy a streaming license so that your students can watch the entire film from a link. You can rely on fair use to upload video clips, but not entire films.

More information about copyright issues is available on our website and through a prepared subject guide.

This article contributed by Stephanie Towery, copyright officer for Texas State University and Theatre and Dance, and Distance Services librarian.