Using Video and Audio in Teaching (online and otherwise)

Video and audio are increasingly present in our classrooms, and as out-of-class review, learning, and study materials

In-class performances or display are usually okay!

Most of the time, showing things to students in class, or performing things with or for students in class at the University of Minnesota is totally okay - there is a specific provision in the law that allows teachers to perform or display things, without limitation, in non-profit, face-to-face, classroom settings. (If not for this exception, classroom activities could be public performances or displays that might require payment and/or permission.)

  • Singing a song that all the students already know
  • Playing or singing from sheet music (legitimate copies (fair use/purchased/rented) only)
  • Watching a video (in whole or in part) from a DVD or VHS tape
  • Listening to music from a CD, tape, or record

It's not a flexible exception, like fair use - it only applies to teachers, and only in specific situations. But it also is not at all uncertain - you don't have to guess at market harm issues, or how much is an appropriately small amount. Learn more about the Classroom Use Exemption.

Note: online and distance classes are not covered by the Classroom Use Exemption - it only applies when students and teachers are physically present in the same space. You may be able to display things for your online/distance students, but you'll have to think about it in terms of fair use.

Wait, why are you talking about DVDs and CDs and sheet music - everyone uses media files, and online streaming!!!

Unfortunately, a lot of the media we use in real life today present some legal wrinkles that "old school" physical media don't.

Online media
Sites like YouTube and Vimeo have Terms of Service that say they are for personal use only. Some even specifically say they are for personal, non-commercial use. Subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others also have Terms of Service, almost all of which also limit use to personal and/or non-commercial use. Some have even more specific limitations than that.

It's unclear whether the terms of service on a free site, where you never clicked "I Agree", are legally enforceable, but with subscription services, you usually did actively agree to the terms of service at some point.

Is your teaching a personal use? No one really knows. Is your teaching non-commercial use? Also unclear. Most of the folks who run these services have not directly addressed such issues. Certainly it's common practice to play public online content, such as YouTube videos, in many different public settings, though not all such users may be aware that the terms of use present questions about such uses.

It's important to note that limitations that you agreed to in a service contract or at the time you purchased digital content are not copyright issues. They are contract issues, and so present risks related to your contractual relationship with the provider of the content, such as account termination.

Many instructors do play YouTube videos in class, or play music they downloaded from iTunes. They may or may not be aware of the contract law issues that those uses present.

Media files like MP3s or movie files
Purchased copies of media files often come with their own terms of use, which you usually actively agreed to at the time of purchase, and which also usually say the files are for personal and/or non-commercial use only. Again, whether instructional use is permitted under those terms is an issue of contract law more than copyright.
If the files were not purchased, you may not have to worry about contractual limitations on your use, but do still have to decide the copyright-law question of whether playing questionably-legitimate copies in class is fair use. Note: ripping or otherwise digitizing audio or video from source media is quite likely fair use sometimes. But this proposition is fairly hotly contested by media companies, and some media like DVDs and Blu-Rays present additional legal issues related to "anticircumvention" provisions of the DMCA.

Instructional/educational display outside of the classroom

Outside of the non-profit face-to-face classroom environment, the Classroom Use Exemption doesn't apply, so non-classroom use of audio and video such as in online instruction, at conferences, in school meetings, etc - may be allowed, but you have to think about it through the lens of fair use.

Ripping or digitizing video or audio for instructional use

The Classroom Exemption, mentioned above, doesn't cover -making copies- at all; it says you can show a picture from a book, but it does not say that you can scan the picture out of the book in order to put it in a presentation file that you project from your computer. You may be able to copy the pictures from the book in order to use them in class, but if so, it will be because of fair use.

Fair use almost certainly covers some copying of video for instruction, especially in the non-profit context. It's also likely that not all video copying, even in non-profit instructional contexts, falls under fair use. Courts haven't done much to interpret how fair use might apply to instructional use of videos, but they have allowed fair use copying of images in other contexts - sometimes even commercial ones - especially when accompanied by criticism or commentary. You can learn more about general principles of fair use, or if you're already familiar with the principles, think through your specific use.

If making the copies is a legitimate fair use, then subsequently showing them in class is probably permitted where the Classroom Use Exemption applies, and may be fair use in other circumstances.

Posting videos online for student use

Sharing videos online with students - when you upload copies of the videos yourself - is also usually a question of fair use. Linking to copies of videos online is another option for sharing videos with students, but it's always worth considering whether those videos are themselves legit copies.

Creative Commons License Unless otherwise noted, all content on the Copyright Information section of this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

When Copyright Isn't An Issue!

Link to videos, share the URL, or use an embed code to display the video on your site without making any copies.

Not a whole lot of video resources are in the public domain due to age, but some older movies, older ephemeral films, and video materials of any age produced by the federal government may be!

Open-licensed videos, such as those distributed under many of the Creative Commons licenses, are pre-approved for various types of reuse and sharing by the public!