MRU Library Blog

Copyright in the Virtual Classroom

Both instructors and students across campus have had to adjust to online learning over the past couple of months. Some teaching elements are easier to transfer to the online world than others. When it comes to copyright, It’s difficult to know which rules change when material is shared online as opposed to an in-class lecture.

We’ve gathered some of the most common questions around copyright from faculty who are creating and adjusting class content that will now be delivered remotely.



Does teaching online change what material I can use?
No. If it was okay for in-person classes, it’s probably okay to present online – especially if access is limited to enrolled students (e.g. Blackboard, closed streams, or emails to students). 


Can I use everything on the internet?
No. Everything on the internet is protected by copyright. As an instructor, you have an educational user right that allows you to use works off the internet if:

  1. You cite the source and the author if known;
  2. There is no login or password (i.e. it’s available on the open Internet);
  3. There is no clearly visible notice prohibiting educational use; and
  4. The work was legally posted. It should be obvious the work was posted by the copyright owner or with their permission. For example, Pinterest is not a legal source.

On the Internet, it is very easy to post or repost works.  When a work is posted without the owner’s written permission, it is technically illegal. If you provide students illegally sourced materials then your user rights are void and you are putting yourself at risk of a copyright infringement claim.


If it has a Creative Commons license, can I use it for teaching?
Absolutely! Just make sure you abide by the terms of the license. For example, if it says “ND” (no derivatives), you can use the work but you cannot change or alter it in any way. You can find out more about Creative Commons, and how you may use those works, here.   


Can I show a movie during my online class?
Maybe. It depends on the source. You can present a Ted Talk or a YouTube video that was uploaded by the copyright owner (so not the latest Star Wars uploaded by “PrincessBunHead72” instead of Disney). However, subscription services like Netflix, Crave, and Prime limit distribution to your living room, so you can’t stream movies from those sources in class or online. MRU Library subscribes to a number of databases of movies and other audiovisual materials that can be shown in class. If you need help with finding and sharing films with your students, talk to your subject librarian.


Who can help me figure out if I can use specific materials?
MRU’s Copyright Advisor ( can help check license terms and assess legality of content on the internet or from any other source.


Can I post hyperlinks for my students?
Yes! Linking to publicly available online content like news, videos, etc. is never a copyright issue, unless it was illegally uploaded. Linking to subscription content through the MRU Library is also an option. Contact your Subject Librarian for assistance.


What if I need to find new materials for online delivery?
Your Subject Librarian can help you find alternative content. The MRU Library has a large collection of online journals, e-books and streaming films that can help support online learning. Your Librarian can also help you find openly licensed teaching materials like Open Educational Resources (OER).


What if I need to scan a document and share it with my students?
You can distribute digital materials to your students via Blackboard or email, but making copies of materials for students (by downloading and uploading files, or by scanning from physical documents) can present some copyright issues. It’s best to stay within the limits set out in MRU’s Fair Dealing Guidelines.  If you’re not sure, contact the Copyright Advisor


Where can I find copyright-friendly online materials?
The Library maintains a website with tips and links to hundreds of copyright-friendly resources. You can also check out the Library’s electronic resources.


Can I use images like photos, clip art, or diagrams from Google Images?
No. Google Images is a search engine, not a source. Google Images is a great search tool, but you must always go to the hosting website to determine if the image was uploaded with the copyright owner’s knowledge and consent. Your user rights also require that you cite every image used in class, on handouts, in PowerPoints, etc. when sourcing off the internet. If you’d like more information, contact the Copyright Advisor.


What materials can I legally use when teaching online?
There are seven legal mechanisms that allow you to use other people’s works:

  1. You’re using a tiny portion of the work (e.g. a paragraph)
  2. You have written permission from the copyright owner
  3. You or MRU owns the copyright
  4. The work is in the public domain (the creator died in 1969 or earlier)
  5. The work has an open license (e.g. Creative Commons)
  6. The work is covered by one of MRU Library’s e-licenses
  7. The use falls under an educational user right in the Copyright Act


I’m worried that my students may record my live or pre-recorded lectures. What can I do?
Talk to your students. Let them know you’re not okay with it. You can also put a notice on your syllabus asking them not to do so. You might even add a clause asking them not to forward any digital materials you provide to them. Contact the Copyright Advisor for more information.


For more information, check out our online workshop: Copyright for Online Instruction. Join Alana Zanbilowicz, MRU’s Copyright Advisor, for a quick, practical overview of copyright in a world of online delivery. This informative 1-hour online workshop will review:

  • What types of materials you can share with your students and how
  • How to source digital and streaming works off the Internet
  • How to remind your students that you own copyright in your lectures and much more!

Register for your choice of session:  

⇒ Tuesday, May 26 at 10 am

⇒ Wednesday, May 27 at 11 am

⇒ Thursday, May 28 at 10 am

⇒ Tuesday, June 2 at 10 am

⇒ Wednesday, June 3 at 11 am

⇒ Thursday, June 4 at 1 pm

⇒ Monday, June 8 at 11 am

⇒ Tuesday, June 9 at 11 am

⇒ Wednesday, June 10 at 10 am

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