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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Course Materials and Copyright for Professors: Using Media

This LibGuide will assist Professors in making determinations regarding how they can make accessible course materials as needed for students.

Using Media Content (and images) for Teaching Purposes

Many instructors wish to use digital images and media for display during class for illustrative purposes.  In a live, face-to-face class of enrolled students, the face-to-face teaching exception to copyright law permits this practice.

However, many questions remain unanswered, such as, where should the media come from?  Can I "splice" the media?  Are the face-to-face teaching rules equally applicable when a Professor wishes to place material into an online course server, such as Blackboard, Compass, or Moodle?

Helpful Links

Copyright Questions?

Copyright law can be difficult and confusing. This webpage is meant to provide you with guidance, but not legal advice.

Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to ask Sara Benson, the Copyright Librarian, for assistance. Sara can be reached at 217-333-4200 or

Scholarly Communication and Publishing

Where should the "media" I wish to display in class come from?

If you wish to take full advantage of the face-to-face teaching exception, the media must come from a legal source. It is important to remember, too, that the face-to-face teaching exception does not specifically permit making copies or reproductions of materials, so that analysis would have to be a fair use analysis.

Can I show an entire movie in my class, even if that movie is currently protected by copyright?

Yes, if you are meeting with enrolled students in a face-to-face teaching lesson, you may show a movie for an educational purpose so long as you lawfully obtained that copy of the movie (perhaps you checked it out from the library, or you purchased your own copy of the movie to show to the class). You cannot show a movie from an illegal source--such as a website that is illegally streaming movies that are currently in theaters.  

If you are teaching an online course, then you would have to perform a fair use analysis on a case-by-case basis for each movie clip you wish to show. Note that you are unlikely to be able to show an entire movie (as one of the factors for fair use is the quantity used), unless the movie is in the public domain)

What about images, for instance, of famous artist's paintings?

 Again, in the case of face-to-face teaching, that is completely appropriate so long as the photograph image comes from a lawful source. Online, again, a fair use analysis would be appropriate. And, of course, if the image is in the public domain, then any kind of use is permissible. 

What if I wish to convert an old copy of a teaching VHS video into a CD to show to my class?

Remember, the teaching exception to copyright applies ony to face-to-face teaching and only to the "display" of the work, not to reproductions/copying of the work.  So, if the movie is still protected by copyright, you would need to do a fair use analysis before making the copy/conversion.  There are a few routes you could take here: 

  • First, check to see whether you can obtain a VHS player to use during class.
  • Next, check to see whether the library has a copy of the movie in CD form.  If so, and you plan to show it in class, the face-to-face teaching exception applies.
  • Engage in a fair use analysis to determine whether making the copy would be considered a fair use.
  • Then, if not a fair use, decide whether to purchase the movie in DVD format for your unit or through your unit librarian if you (and others) plan to use it for years to come.  
  • Finally, you could ask the copyright owner for permission to convert the copy and let them know that you only plan to make one copy and use it for teaching purposes.

Can I show short clips in an online class?

Generally, if the class is online, you would need to engage in a fair use analysis. Using shorter clips is usually preferred under fair use, as one of the factors is the quantity used. If the media comes from a lawful source and even if you need to get around technology safety barriers to show the clips (note that there is an exception to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act for educators to bypass digital safety measures to show short clips), then the use is likely fine. Remember, though, that the materials, if placed online, should be placed on a password protected course website and not generally on the open web. Also, remember that it is preferable to live stream from links to legal audiovisual content live during class (or by inserting the original DVD or Blu-Ray into the computer to play) rather than to download and copy content (because the face-to-face teaching exception allows for the display, not the copying of the material). However, if you must make a copy, you should again engage in a fair use analysis (if the purpose of the copy is to splice material for short clips in an educational manner, that may constitute a fair use).