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Copyright Guide: COVID-19

General Information on U.S. Copyright Law for Staff and Students

Copyright During the COVID-19 Pandemic

New questions arise as we try to teach hybrid or fully online courses. This COVID-19 page was created to help answer those questions.

The focus on this page is primarily video, since that is where most questions are arising with regard to COVID-19 and teaching online.

If you need help linking to Murphy Library's subscription resources, finding streaming video options, etc., please reach out to Pam Cipkowski, our Collection Development Librarian.

Adjustments to Copyright Law Due to COVID-19

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was issued on March 27, 2020 and has been extended in 60-day increments ever since. Section 710 allows the Acting Copyright Register "to adjust the applicable timing provisions in specific cases where compliance would have been possible but for the national emergency." This basically affects people seeking to file or renew a copyright, not to educational use. So far, there has been no “COVID-19” addendum or even a “public health emergency” addendum to the fair use doctrine. That means nothing has changed legally regarding copyright and media in higher education.

For more information, see the following sources: 

Multimedia in Canvas

You are free to upload or link to videos of your own lectures because you hold the copyright.

For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos. Providing a link is always a safe choice, even if it's YouTube, which polices its own copyright complaints.

Sometimes it can be permissible to digitize part of a DVD to include in Canvas for your class to watch. You should make sure that all four Fair Use guidelines apply:

  1. The purpose should be to fulfill a specific learning objective.
  2. The nature of the movie should be considered (documentaries are easier to justify than feature films).
  3. The amount you use should be the smallest amount needed to fulfill the specific educational purpose.
  4. It should have a minimal effect on the market. It cannot be a replacement for an already-available commercial option, whether DVD or streaming.

Murphy Library subscribes to some academic streaming video collections, including the following.

  • Streaming (Murphy Library Search)  Filter on the left or at the top of the page type additional words in the advanced search
  • Alexander Street Press - 7 different databases of streaming videos, including PBS Video Collection, Black Studies in Video, LGBT Studies in Video, Ethnographic Video Online, and Filmmakers Library Online.
  • 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)
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 Murphy Library's subscription resources, finding streaming video options, etc., please reach out to Pam Cipkowski, our Collection Development Librarian.

The best option is to link to the item from the Murphy 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 NetID to gain access to the article.

(Much of the above content has been adapted from the Oklahoma State University Libraries' COVID-19 Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines.)


This LibGuide is not created by a lawyer or legal expert. It contains our best understanding of the issues surrounding copyright, especially during a pandemic, but if you want official guidelines, use the links we have provided to the Copyright Act or seek legal counsel.

That said, copyright is often not black-or-white, and it can be unclear whether digitizing DVD material is legal, even if the resulting files are limited to a Canvas class.

Teaching in Person vs Online

In terms of copyright, a teacher in a university classroom with students is very different from a teacher using Canvas to teach a class fully or partly online.

Teaching a Traditional In-Person Class

To show a commercial video in the classroom, whether DVD or streaming, you must either get a public performance license or you must qualify for an educational exemption. To obtain this exemption, there are six points to be met, and the showing of the video must meet all six to be exempt.

  1. Must be legitimate (original) copy.
  2. Must be part of the systematic course of instruction and not for cultural, entertainment or recreational value of anyone present.
  3. Must be done by the instructor or pupil.
  4. Must be in a place devoted to instruction.
  5. Must be part of the teaching activities of non-profit institution.
  6. Attendance must be limited to instructors, pupils and guest lectures

Basically, as long as it's part of a regular class on our campus, any legitimate (original) copy of a video may be shown in the classroom.

Teaching a Hybrid Class, partially in person and partially online

The TEACH Act, "or more accurately, Section 110(2), is triggered whenever the performance or display of a copyrighted work is transmitted." It is not limited to classes that are fully online. It does not use the terms "distance education" or "online classes." It comes into play whenever a copyrighted work is transmitted in any way. Refer to the "in person" section for when your class is meeting in person, and to the "Fully Online" section for when you are teaching online and making any videos available online.

Teaching a Fully Online Class

For fully online classes, you can still base decisions on Fair Use. You may also choose to refer to the TEACH Act for what is allowed in your online class. See our TEACH tab. If your situation does not fall into the requirements for the TEACH Act, you may still be able to use Fair Use guidelines.

NOTE: Copyright adherence begins with a legitimate copy. If you are working with a copy of a DVD, that is probably not legitimate.

"TEACH says it is not copyright infringement for teachers and students at a nonprofit educational institution to transmit performances and displays of copyrighted works as part of a course if certain conditions are met.  If these conditions are not or cannot be met, use of the material will have to qualify as a fair use or permission from the copyright holder(s) must be obtained." 

(Adapted from