Here are some top copyright and licensing tips to help you teach remotely. They include suggestions and advice about where to find new teaching content online.

1) Link, don’t copy

It is generally safe to link to e-journal articles, e-books and websites. By doing this you will avoid copying and copyright issues.

Occasionally a website will prohibit linking for educational use in their terms of use so always check these. They can be found at the bottom of their web pages.

Link names should match the name of the page that you are linking to e.g. ‘visit Leganto Reading Lists for more information on supplying readings for students’.

2) Reduce, reuse, and recycle? 

During the pandemic Coursera and Ed-X provided Imperial staff and students with temporary access to their entire catalogue of online courses during the COVID-19 outbreak. They and Open learn will still offer free course modules in the autumn term. Instead of building your own online course, you can reduce the effort of going online by directing students to these modules and then filing in the gaps. For example, if you were teaching students about COVID-19 transmission you might direct them to complete part of  Science matters: let’s talk about COVID-19.

Permission to access an online course does not include permission to copy materials from it into your own teaching materials, so always link to content on the supplier’s platform from your VLE.

Instructions on how to access have been shared via the Free online teaching materials webpages, Department admin teams, or you can contact

3) Publishers are offering more content during the COVID-19 outbreak

To help universities cope with the disruption caused by COVID-19, publishers are temporarily giving free access to some, or all, of their online content, see Online resources with temporary access during COVID-19 for a growing list of resources recommended by Library Services.

Imperial subscribes to the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) which may be particularly helpful where students need to learn practical skills.

4) Keep an open mind

Open educational resources (OERs) are designed to be used by others. They are openly licensed with Creative Commons Licenses which promote reuse. Check out the OER Commons and Where to find OERs from Edinburgh University. Ask colleagues and your librarian if they have discovered something ready made.

Try the Directory of Open Access Books for an alternative to your normal course textbook and the Directory of Open Access Journals for reusable articles and figures.

Search CORE for the peer reviewed author manuscript when you can’t access the published version.

If you decide to make an open course, a sharable open educational resource or a MOOC module, you are recommended to obtain permission for all copyrighted materials unless you are confident that the creator has released it under a Creative Commons licence. This is because, College licences do not cover open use of copyrighted materials on the web, rightsholder can see everything you do and determining whether content is and isn’t fair within the terms of UK copyright law can be tricky.

Do this at the beginning of the course creation process and ASK the Library for help.

5) Be secure

It is acceptable to be inventive about how you deliver teaching but make sure you are reaching only your students and not everyone on the web. Access to library resources is restricted to Imperial College London staff and students only. If you use them in your teaching materials make sure they are hosted in a VLE or similarly secure environment protected by a College username and password.

6) Small is beautiful

Under UK law you may copy a fair amount of a copyrighted work to illustrate a teaching point. Fair is normally interpreted as small amounts, such as a paragraph or a single image but in the end, it is a personal judgement that you must be prepared to defend.

To avoid conflict with rightsholders, always consider the financial impact of your actions. If what you intend to do will significantly damage sales, then it is unlikely to be fair.

All extracts copied under this exception must be fully acknowledged and the amount limited only to the amount to illustrate the point.

Text and images are separate copyrighted works. Remember, when you copy an image that you are copying the whole image, not part of a page.

You can read more about using copyrighted materials for educational purposes at Copyright for lecturers and at Copyright User.

7) Large amounts need permission

Publishers and other rights holders may have been be lenient during the COVID-19 outbreak, but the law and contracts have not changed. You should still obtain written permission before copying large amounts of a book, journal article or website. A large amount is either one large extract or multiple extracts that, when added together, become a significant amount of the whole work.

Library Services can often help, by purchasing the electronic version of a textbook or a digitised book chapter under the College’s CLA’s Higher Education Licence.  Digitised chapters are uploaded to the CLA’s Digital Content Store and delivered securely to students as a link.

Contact for assistance.  When supplying details of titles or chapters, put them in ranked list with the most important at the top.

8) Ask nicely

Seeking permission is always an option. A nice email giving an indication that there may be a benefit for the rights holder is the best way to get a positive response. For example, possible sales or free publicity for their book or website.

If you are granted permission, thank the rights holder in your acknowledgement and provide a link to their website e.g. ‘photograph of a Peregrine falcon reprinted with the kind permission of the RSPB'.

An amateur photographer or non-commercial organization are likely to yes as you are increasing the visibility of their work. A commercial publisher will assess the financial harm your copying might do to their own exploitation of the content. For example, if the publisher is already selling an online course based on a textbook, they are unlikely to give you free permission to do the same thing.

9) Always acknowledge what is not yours

Online courses are often a mix of tutor-created content and pre-existing content copied from books, journals, and websites. You must always acknowledge this in your course materials.

In academia, it is normal to cite and reference quoted text and copied images, in an agreed style such as Harvard or Vancouver. For help visit Reference management or speak to your librarian.

There are less formal approaches to acknowledgement. For example, Creative Commons recommend title, author, source and licence, with source and licence linked to the source and licence text on the website. e.g. ‘"Clouds" by Chris.L.Dodds is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0'.  The new CC search supplies pre-formatted acknowledgements, making it as quick as ‘copy and paste’.

You should also acknowledge embedded video, TV and film clips.

10) Be picture perfect

Select images licensed with a Creative Commons licence or from one of the sources listed in our Copyright FAQ “How do I quickly find an image to use in my slides?” (number 4). If you use other images you risk being contacted by the owner and paying a fee.

Your librarian can help locate images for your discipline.

11) Look before you leap onto YouTube

YouTube is home to a mix of legally and illegally uploaded content so you should make some checks before linking students to YouTube content or embedding it in a VLE. Illegally uploaded videos tend to disappear and are a poor example to students.

The creator of the content should be the person or organisation that created it. For example only embed BBC television clips uploaded by the BBC (e.g. by  BBC Earth Lab),  not by Jez66 living in Nottingham.

12) Tune in to TV and radio

The copyright exception, illustration for instruction, applies to audio visual materials. You may therefore include short clips from TV and radio in your teaching materials. Clips posted for student entertainment are not covered by this exception.

For longer clips it is best to pause the recording and provide a link to where they can watch or listen later. If you are new to Panopto, read Imperial’s Guidelines on Audio and video lecturer recordings (PDF) and ICT's Panopto guidance.

Box of Broadcasts (BOB) captures content from nine UK channels: BBC1 London / BBC2 / BBC4 / ITV London / Channel 4 / More4 / Channel 5 / BBC Radio 4 / BBC Radio 4 Extra and is a much more stable way to make TV and films shown on TV available for students. Broadcasters have geographically limited access to students based in the UK and Europe to protect resale rights in other parts of the world. To assist with this, The Educational Recording Agency (ERA) will contact rights holders about specific programs. BOB offers subject collections and playlists for inspiration.

13) Film fanatics take care

UK law permits a whole film to be shown to students ‘at an educational establishment’ for an educational purpose. So far, this has been interpreted as meaning in a physical classroom rather than a virtual one due to concerns of illegal copying and distribution of feature films by students.

This presents a problem when moving teaching online if students need to see more than a short clip and the film is not available on Box of Broadcasts. In this situation, please seek advice from Legal Services.

Some useful risk mitigation strategies include: using a secure College platform, making sure only students on the course can view the film and only showing the film for a limited time. Adding a notice that clearly states that the film should not be copied and shared will also reduce the risk of students becoming the source of competing pirate copies.

14) Set expectations

You cannot stop students sending friends teaching materials or posting them online but you can make it clear that they should not do so by adding a statement like the one below to your course title slide.

© [year] Imperial College London. All rights reserved. This presentation has been added to Blackboard to support your studies.

You may print and/or download a single copy for your personal, educational use. Further redistribution of teaching materials, including making copies available on the internet, is not permitted.

15) What about exams?

Under UK copyright law you can use a ‘fair’ amount of a copyrighted work in an exam. This is open to interpretation but providing students with a single journal article, book chapter, newspaper article or blog post would be reasonable in the current circumstances. If you want students to compare two different documents, then you can provide a second article for discussion and comparison.

Library Services can check permission information for you, email

16) Tell Library Services your problems

If you find that you don’t have permission to use all the content you want in the way you want speak to Your librarian. Library Services can use its knowledge to work on a solution while you get on with your teaching.