Educational use of images, video and audio

This page goes deeper into copyright and related legal issues for educational use of images, video, and audio. The information is mainly for instructors at the University of Minnesota.

Copyright Information Services staff members can help with these issues. Contact us with questions, or for training.

Educational use of images

Images can be powerful teaching tools as illustrations related to a class, or for studying concepts outside of the course context.

Most of the time, showing things to students from physical media in in-person classes at the University of Minnesota is totally okay. There’s a legal exception that only applies to teachers, and only in specific situations, but it’s very clear - you don't have to guess at market harm issues, or how much is an appropriately small amount. 

It’s not so clear that showing the same image in a non-classroom educational setting is allowed, and neither is scanning or copying things as a step towards showing them in a class. People frequently do copy or scan images and show them in online teaching, at conferences, and at school meetings, and it is often fair use to do so.

It's also likely that not all image 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 images, but they have allowed fair use copying of images in other contexts - sometimes even commercial ones - especially when accompanied by criticism or commentary. 

The Visual Resources Association has a very useful "Statement on the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study". The statement articulates the organization's understanding of fair use principles, but it's not legal advice. It's a bit longer than this website, but very much worth the read for anyone whose teaching is image-heavy. It is also of great value for anyone working with images as the subject of their research, or who wants to include images in published scholarly materials.

The College Art Association has drawn up a "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts". This has been welcomed by many in the visual arts teaching and research community. It articulates accepted community practices around writing and teaching about art, and goes beyond to fair use issues in making new art, and in archival and museum uses.

The Association of Art Museum Directors have "Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Materials and Works of Art by Art Museums", which is a welcome new document in succession to their groundbreaking earlier principled documentation of fair use issues in visual arts

Although the resources above are mostly focused on visual arts disciplines, the principles they explore apply to many different types of educational and research uses.

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Lecture recordings and streaming with students

As mentioned above, showing things to students, or performing things with or for students from physical media like a DVDs, CD, or existing sheet music at an in-person class at the University of Minnesota is usually totally okay. But that kind of class environment is becoming less common. 

If you can limit audio and video use during your online course to relatively brief clips, you may be able to include those in lecture recordings or live-casts under fair use. For media use longer than brief clips, it is often legally easier to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos. 

The same basic legal provisions apply to the University’s Kaltura platform as they do to YouTube, but there may be some practical differences between platforms. It is more likely that videos posted on YouTube may encounter some automated copyright enforcement, such as a takedown notice, or disabling of included audio or video content. These automated enforcement tools are often -incorrect- when they flag audio, video, or images included in instructional videos - if you encounter something like this that you believe to be in error, you can contact for assistance.

Live streaming clips and whole movies or songs for or with students via Zoom, Twitch, etc is a relatively new innovation in teaching with media, and the law around it is very unclear. Technologies that automatically detect and shut down video and audio within streams on commercial services are also evolving very quickly. This is a great area for instructional innovation. 

If you’d rather not work on that innovative edge, the Libraries already have quite a bit of licensed streaming video content, which you are welcome to use in your online course. The Libraries also already have subscriptions to a significant set of streaming audio options for UMN users. We may be able to purchase streaming access for additional media, but it does take time to finalize a streaming license, and institutional streaming costs do often exceed our budget constraints.

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Terms of service affect media use

Sites like YouTube and Vimeo have Terms of Service that say they are for personal use only. It's unclear whether the terms of service on a site where users never clicked "I Agree" are legally enforceable. Many people use media from these sites in classes and educational presentations. 

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. With subscription services, users usually do actively agree to the terms of service at some point, so they may be legally binding. 

Some copies of media files - such as files downloaded after purchase - may come with their own terms of service. Purchasers usually actively agree to those terms in some way during the purchase, so they may be legally binding. 

Terms of service, if they are binding, are legal contracts. No one really knows whether educational uses violate these terms of service. Is your teaching personal, non-commercial use? Maybe! It is common practice to play public online content, such as YouTube videos, in many different educational settings, though not all such users may be aware that the terms of use present questions about such uses. Most service providers have not directly answered questions about these issues. Some of the subscription service providers have, and they usually indicate that they think educational use would need additional permissions. 

A service provider can sue users that violate the terms of service, but that’s very uncommon. What’s more common with a contract violation is for the site providing the service to either discipline users (e.g., by limiting access to an account), or end the business relationship (e.g., by terminating the account.) 

If you want to use subscription streaming media in class, the most clearly legal option is to have students watch it on their own accounts, or watch with friends.

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Sharing copies of video and audio with students

Fair use may cover making media clips and sharing them with students on Canvas/Kaltura or other streaming or download options. Where there are no other options, fair use may sometimes extend to sharing a copy of an entire work, but that will generally only be true for unusual outliers.

Courts haven't done much to interpret how fair use might apply to educational use of video and audio, but they have allowed fair use copying of images in other contexts - sometimes even commercial ones - especially when accompanied by criticism or commentary. 

Media that are encrypted (like DVDs, Blu-Rays, and most streaming video) can present additional legal issues related to "anticircumvention" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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Student Assignments

Fair use does likely cover some copying from video and audio for course assignments, especially when students are using media to create new works, or criticizing or commenting on the source material. 

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