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Copyright and Online Classes

When you're teaching a class in person and showing famous works of art in a powerpoint presentation, or sharing a handout with your students that has copyrighted material in it, it's not something you usually worry about. What you're doing falls under the "fair use" clause of copyright law, which allows teachers to share and show copyrighted information with their students in the context of a classroom.

But what about teaching online? What if you want to upload your handout for students to download? What if you want to record your teaching session so people can watch it later? If you're going to do these things you need to be a bit more familiar with what you are and are not allowed to do with copyrighted material.

As an SCA teacher teaching an online class, what kind of copyrighted material might you need to be concerned about? Portraits and pictures, primarily. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth; a picture of the Book of Kells; Pictures taken from books showing things your students need to see. These are an essential ingredient to most classes taught in the SCA. You might also be playing recordings of musical performances, showing video of people performing dances; all of these things are copyrighted.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when teaching an online class that involves a presentation, video, or handout with this sort of material in it.

If you're not sure whether your class material is safely shareable online with everyone, here is some more information to help you figure out whether it's OK to share it online. There are two parts of copyright law that apply: Fair Use, and the TEACH act.


The TEACH Act (Section 110) of the copyright law outlines provisions for online courses. If the copyright issue does not fall under provisions of the TEACH Act it may still be allowable under "Fair Use". In order to claim use under the TEACH Act, a number of obligations must be met. In order to perform or display works in an online class it must be:

Fair Use

Copyright law can be confusing, even for people that deal with it every day. As a rule of thumb, as long as you're not posting stuff publically out on the internet--just sharing it with your online students--you'll be OK. If you are going to post it as a public youtube video, etc., make sure you're not going to run afoul of museums, libraries, or people whose work you're discussing.