As part of moving classes online during the Covid-19 emergency in spring 2020 many instructors began recording their live classes to later provide them for download for those who couldn’t attend (>asynchronous delivery), want to re-view and/or possibly also for institutional teaching evaluation/quality assurance purposes etc.
There are at least three problematic issues with the approach: Intellectual property rights (IPR), privacy rights, and inappropriate/unauthorised use of data/information.
Intellectual Property Rights
Any classes and the materials deriving thereof (e.g. recordings) are intellectual property of their respective creators (i.e. usually their instructors). While sharing their materials is naturally the right of the teachers, there may already be a legal issue if institutions required their instructors to share their classes against their will, and/or if institutions continued sharing materials without their owners knowledge, consent and/or compensation e.g. after a part-time teacher left the institution.
However, a more obvious infringement of IPRs may follow from unauthorised sharing of classes/materials beyond the original intended audience. After e.g. a recorded lecture was downloaded e.g. by a student there’s little that may be done to prevent that student to share the lecture with further third parties, potentially with best intentions; but also others may have motive to misappropriate class materials. E.g. there have been cases of instructors from other institutions sharing materials with their own institutions as their own productions – unauthorised and/or uncredited.
Besides the course instructor’s IPR there are additionally the IPRs of materials potentially used in the materials, e.g. copyrights for images used in slide shows. Use e.g. of images in classrooms is commonly deemed acceptable for “educational purpose”, but such copyright exemptions are limited and bound by certain conditions. Not all instructors reference all materials in their classes appropriately – which is technically also an issue in traditional classes, but becomes more exposed when its evident in downloadable files. It’s even more problematic when control over dissemination of class materials is abandoned by making materials (relatively) easily accessible online.
All opinions, views, positions articulated in the context of the classroom should be considered private, thus are protected by privacy laws. Unmitigated dissemination of such statements via sharings of live recordings thus is legally problematic and also a breach of trust. While instructors may be expected to some extent to accept such risk and/or are in a position where they may pre-consider their statements more carefully in advance, students are potentially more vulnerable.
Additionally, live recordings of online streams are prone to accidental collateral captures – e.g. unrelated third parties may walk into view, un-related audio events may be heard from outside the camera view etc. While especially instructors may be in positions to largely avoid such events on their side, students may not have the same advantage. In any case, dissemination of such collateral footage is legally and ethically not appropriate.
Inappropriate use of Data/Information
It will always happen in classes – especially those classes that encourage active participation, discussion, exchange – that stakeholders may express opinions, relate experiences, or share personal information that make them vulnerable to abuse, e.g. (cyber)bullying. While such abuse may happen in any case and classroom online or offline, it certainly doesn’t help to avoid it if the incident is disseminated online.
But there may also be bigger legal implications. A participant could express political/personal views that put them into a tenuous position; or they relate participation in potentially actionable activities; during a Zoom class potentially incriminating materials may be visible in the background of the video feed etc. While neither instructor, institution or even class participants may act on such information, if it is shared online it’s potentially available to a much larger audience with uncontrollable legal and personal consequences.
To limit these kinds of risk, live recordings and/or other documentation of live classes should never be shared unedited. Ideally, instead of sharing live materials instructors should pre-record “clean” versions of their classes for sharing. Those may not prevent e.g. IPR infringements, but they allow an extent of control over what exactly is shared. Most importantly, they protect the students.
If the class were to be recorded nonetheless, class participants should coherently be reminded of the recording at the beginning of each class (e.g. by a standardised legal disclaimer); and the institution needs to establish and enforce strict control over dissemination of materials.
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As was covered globally in the media, in late 2019 Hong Kong experienced weeks of unprecedented anti-government protests. Students were at the forefront of those protests and have since been subject to massive police crackdowns. It’s easily imaginable that a student in a political seminar could recount their experiences during the actions as part of a wider discussion e.g. on political activism. If those statements were capture on camera and were to be subsequently disseminated, the student would be put in a very delicate position. It’d be a nightmare…