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Education (Lesson Planning Resources): Copyright in the Classroom

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for "original works of authorship", including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. "Copyright" literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, title, principle, or discovery. Similarly, names, titles, short phrases, slogans, familiar symbols, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, coloring, and listings of contents or ingredients are not subject to copyright.

Blogs, M. (n.d.). Copyright - all rights reserved. Retrieved from

What is the TEACH Act?

The TEACH Act is a copyright exemption that covers teaching conducted through digital transmission; it addresses the performance and display of copyrighted materials used in teaching. Even if your class has on ground, face to face sessions, anything you transmit through course delivery systems, such as Angel or Blackboard, would fall under the TEACH Act, unless you choose to use Fair Use as an alternative. The TEACH Act is not a wild card exemption to do anything you want; it comes with limitations. 

Teachers have more privileges in face-to-face teaching situations for the use of copyrighted materials than teachers in online instruction. The TEACH Act attempts to bring the two environments closer together, but the playing fields are still not level.

The TEACH Act does not cover the use of textual materials such as readings.

Provisions of the Act

The Act allows teachers to show the full performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or display the following types of materials (partial list):

  • a sound recording of a poem
  • a sound recording of a piece of literature
  • a recorded symphony
  • still images, photographs (these are considered "displays")
  • still images from subscription databases if allowed by license
  • text if it is something that would normally be "displayed" in a face to face class; not if it is something only to be read by students

Teachers may only display "reasonable and limited portions" of dramatic works. Use only the portions that are necessary to make a point. (Teachers in  face to face classrooms may use the following works in their entirety). The following are examples:

  • dramatic works
  • audio/visual works
  • musicals
  • operas
  • commercial films
  • music videos

Teachers may not transmit or display instructional materials, without permission or licensing, which students are commonly expected to purchase such as:

  • textbooks
  • coursepacks
  • workbooks
  • digital educational work (made for the purpose of performance or display for use in mediated instruction)

Works "produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks" should not be copied, but purchased and used as intended by the publisher.

Obligations of the teacher under the TEACH Act:

    • The performance or display is made by or under the supervision of an instructor.
    • The performance or display is directly related and integral to the class content, not ancillary like Reserves
    • The work is part of systematic mediated instructional activities
    • The "transmission is made solely for and limited to students officially enrolled in the course."
    • Materials that are used for performance or display must be lawfully made and acquired.
    • Instructor must use reasonable controls to prevent copying and retention of the work, those that would "discourage most users." (streaming is suggested for video; thumbnails, watermarks and disabling right click copy function can be used to protect images.)
    • A digital copy may be made from an analog copy when no digital version is available or when the digital version is technologically protected.


                              (2nd example from NCSU)

*LibGuide box information retrieved from UMKC Libraries Copyright, TEACH Act

Some Considerations for Educational Use

Please use these examples as a suggested starting point and be sure to use the Fair Use Evaluator. Courts are not bound by established standards or guidelines, and the Copyright Act contains no such standards. Therefore, conducting your own fair use evaluation may demonstrate due diligence in assessing your needs

Distributing Copies

  • Copies made should not substitute the purchase of books, journals, etc.
  • Always provide a copyright notice on the first page of the copied material. At bare minimum your notice should state: "Notice: This material is subject to the copyright law of the United States."
  • Provide only one copy per student.
  • Copying the works for subsequent semesters requires copyright permission from the publisher.
  • Using Materials Found on the Internet

Always Credit the Source

  • If you are using the information on your personal web page ask permission or simply link to the site
  • If you receive permission to use the material keep a copy for your records

Suggested Limits:

  • Movies: Up to 10% or three minutes, whichever is less
  • Text: Up to 10% or 1,000 words, whichever is less.
    • A single chapter from a book
    • A single article from a journal issue or newspaper
    • A short story, essay, or poem from an individual work
    • A single chart, diagram, graph, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, journal, magazine, or newspaper
  • Music: Up to 10% of an individual copyrighted musical composition. 10% of a copyrighted musical composition on a sound recording. However, no more than 30 seconds may be used without gaining permission from the copyright owner and/or publisher
  • Photos and Illustrations: A photograph or illustration may be used in its entirety, but caution should be exercised when using several images by one artist or photographer.

*LibGuide box information retrieved from Butler University Libraries, 2014.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. copyright law) is an exception to the rights of copyright owners. Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances, especially when the cultural or social benefits of the use are predominant. This includes purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, and research. Fair use balances the needs of the public with those of copyright owners and preserves copyright's purpose to promote "science and the useful arts." The flexibility of fair use means that it can be used for all types of copyrighted materials in all formats and may apply to any type of use. 

When institutions and individuals act reasonably and in good faith when evaluating whether their intended uses are fair, the law limits their liability if the use is later found to be infringing. In addition, state institutions benefit from sovereign immunity which essentially prevents rightsholders from seeking money damages against the institution for copyright violations.

For these reasons, fair use is an essential tool for helping institutions balance the risks involved in the unauthorized use of copyrighted material with their institutional missions and the value of the projects that would not be possible if copyright permission was required in every instance.

Alternatives to Fair Use

Use Resources with Open Licenses

There is a growing movement in education to create and use educational materials that are openly available to everyone. These resources are free to access and in most cases free to reuse, modify, and redistribute. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines these Open educational resources (OER) as "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge."

Using OERs in your courses keeps instructional materials affordable for students, promotes a culture of collaboration and sharing, and eliminates concerns about applying fair use to avoid potential copyright violations.

Each of the example pages in this guide contain links to sites that can help you identify material that is freely available with open licenses.

For more information on the OER movement and open licensing, see the links below.

OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search) is a search tool that aims to make the discovery of open content easier. Currently, OASIS is developed and managed at SUNY Geneseo's Milne Library.