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Copyright: Online Teaching & Learning

Learn what copyright is, why it is important, and how to use information legally.

Copyright information

The information on this page is provided to help you make an informed decision about using material in online classes, and how that compares to in-person classes. It is not intended as legal advice.

If you have any questions about copyright and online teaching, feel free to get in touch with a librarian. During remote instruction, you can contact a librarian using the options on the library's Ask a Librarian page or the email button below.

In-person and online classes

Can I use the same materials online as in-person? 

It depends. Not all materials that you can use in person in a classroom can be added to or used in Canvas. Each item requires its own analysis. Here are some variables to keep in mind. 

  1. Is the item already digital, or are you scanning or digitizing it? 

If a text-based item is digitally available, such as an online newspaper article or journal article, you can provide a link to this item but usually should not upload a copy to Canvas. If the article requires payment or subscription online, search the library catalog for a link that will allow students to access it with their Seattle Colleges login. If you are unable to find a copy of the article in our catalog, get in touch with the library for assistance. 

If a text-based item is available in print only, you may be able to add a portion of it for students to read. See the next question, “How much of the work are you using?”, for more considerations. "Print only” considerations do not include work that is already online but that Seattle Central College does not have access to, such as certain journal articles. 

For a longer discussion of films and audio, see the “Films and other media in the LMS” heading below. 

Some information that you see on other sites about online instruction may include discussions of the TEACH Act and its application to making works available for students. Note that the Seattle Colleges do not currently qualify for the TEACH Act (note from Michelle: this is from the current content on, so if that is no longer true, I can update this!), so this cannot be used as a source of copyright compliance for making materials available to students. You will need to continue to rely on the copyright licenses of work you are using and fair use. 

  1. How much of the work are you using?  

There is no exact percentage of a work that makes it appropriate or not appropriate to use for online teaching. The Fair Use page of this guide can help you assess amount in the context of the other three Fair Use factors. 

Keep in mind that it is not only the amount of content that you need to weigh, but its centrality to the work as a whole. The title poem from a collection would have a greater impact on the work than a similar amount of text out of a textbook. 

  1. Are you embedding a work in Canvas, or linking to it? 

Generally, linking to a work is acceptable, since you are not making a copy, but only directing students to the original item. If you want students to use a large amount of a digital item, or if you aren’t sure whether your use is copyright compliant, a link is the best choice.

  1. Is the work available for students to purchase, or is it hard to find online? 

If the work is already available to purchase online, it’s harder to make a copyright justification for adding it to your Canvas site because the paid version is more directly competing with your copy. If the work is currently online, and is free, you can link to it, or you can evaluate the copyright status of providing it in your Canvas site. 

If it is not available online at all and is only a print source, see question 1 above. 

Options for adjusting your use of material

What are my options if I can’t use the same course material online? 

Consider using a smaller amount of the same work. Maybe students usually read a full book chapter in print, but the most important material for the week is only in a sub-section of this chapter. In that case, consider assigning only the sub-section online. 

If the content is (legally) available online, you can link to it instead of uploading it to your Canvas site. If the article requires payment or subscription online, search the library catalog for a link that will allow students to access it with their Seattle Colleges login. If you are unable to find a copy of the article in our catalog, get in touch with the library for assistance. 

Consider replacing the work with a different resource that is available for online education. 

Streaming media

Films and digital media can be significantly more restricted online than in-person. For in-person courses, the Classroom Use Exemption in copyright law allows for work to be viewed or performed. However, this does not cover online education, and it is important to remember that when you add media to Canvas for students, you are not just providing a one-time screening, you are actually making a copy. Both of these aspects have important copyright implications. 

The best source for online media is the library catalog. The library provides access to streaming media with usage rights appropriate for education through a variety of databases: If you can’t find the film or resource you would like to use in your class, contact the library to determine whether it can be purchased in one of these databases. 

For online videos, such as TED Talks or YouTube videos, look for a specific license from the site. For example, the TED Talks site has a very specific page clarifying usage policies. When in doubt, a link to the resource is always the safest option, and make sure that you are only using videos that you believe do not infringe copyright. For example, do not use a YouTube video to show students scenes from a feature film. 

Scanning books

The library can help you evaluate whether a particular portion of core class material is appropriate to scan for online use during the time that access to physical materials is restricted due to COVID-19. Find more information about this service at the Course Reserves – Scanning Services portion of our Remote Library Services page. Keep in mind that if the book is already available online for digital purchase by students, there may be tighter restrictions on scanning. 

You can also check the library catalog to determine whether you can link to a book in ebook form. 

Additional Resources