Since the schools closed their doors in March due to the COVID-19 lockdown, teachers and educators have been looking at ways to replicate a classroom environment online. A big part of primary education includes a dedicated storytime, a practice which is highly beneficial to learning and which generally doesn’t pose any problems when it comes to copyright.

One question we’ve been getting a lot recently is whether teachers can record and broadcast themselves reading stories for their students as part of a virtual storytime. There really is no simple answer to this question. Unfortunately, any type of audio recording is outside of the CLA’s remit, which is the provision of licences that permit photocopying and scanning from books, journals and magazines, and we are not aware of a licence that would permit audio recordings from books. The main copyright issue with teachers recording and broadcasting themselves reading from published material online is that they can’t necessarily control who watches it and this sort of activity could potentially impact sales of audiobooks and be detrimental to content creators in the long term. Once something is published online, it’s very hard to make sure that it’s completely taken down. This topic is covered in a couple of blogs we published last year about the problem with reading books aloud via social media and the issues of “copyright for educational purposes” when it comes to reading whole books and sharing them online. The best advice regarding this practice is always to contact the rightsholder directly, whether it be the author, agent or publisher to ask for their permission.

However, due to the current circumstances, authors, publishers and other content creators are more likely to be sympathetic to teacher requests and are even doing a lot themselves to support remote learning and make their work as accessible as possible to teachers, parents and children.

For example, BookTrust launched HomeTime in partnership with author Cressida Cowell to provide a concise list of what different authors, illustrators and organisations are doing to keep childrens’ love of books and reading alive while being stuck at home for long periods of time. We also published blogs  recently about how children’s authors are stepping up during lockdown and about picture books author events online. So there might already be a recording of a reading or something similar directly from authors available for teachers to use – it’s worth a look.

Publishers are also doing a lot to make works more accessible to teachers and students while schools are closed. For example, some are offering temporary open licences that schools can apply for that permit recordings of stories, so it might be worth checking publisher’s websites for updates on this. ALCS have put together a very useful guide about sharing books and content online which provides a list of publishers which have changed their usual policies and issued specific advice on how their works can be used and shared for a certain period of time. Libraries Connected have also created a comprehensive list of the different publisher permissions relating to online reading activities during COVID-19 here

Another avenue to explore for a more personal connection between teachers and students might be live streaming via secure platforms such as Zoom or Skype. As long as the session is not recorded, this could be considered the same as reading the story in class.

And while we can’t provide a licence to allow audio recording of published work, CLA has worked with publishers to temporarily relax the Education Licence terms to support remote teaching. On top of this, our free Education Platform gives teachers access to high-quality, digital versions of textbooks their school owns and allows them to make copyright-compliant copies to share with their students.

So even though there are restrictions to recording and broadcasting readings of published content, it’s easy to see that the industry is pulling together to support remote teaching and make published content as accessible as possible to teachers, parents and students. In these unprecedented times, stories and keeping a sense of community is more important than ever.

Please note that this blog post should not be considered legal advice, and if in doubt we always advise to seek permission directly from rightsholders where a licence is not available.