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Copyright: Teaching and Fair Use

Copyright Protection for Face-to-Face Teaching Activities

What is permitted under the law for classrooms:

17 U.S. Code § 110 (1): Allows for works to be performed or displayed (books, movies, music, images, etc.) as long as the following conditions are met:

  • It takes place in a classroom;
  • It takes place in person;
  • It takes place at a nonprofit education institution.
  • A lawful copy is used.

This does NOT extend to online course websites. Likewise if you are making or distributing copies that are not part of actively performing or displaying the work within class (i.e. handing out readings for the next class), this is not covered under this section of the law.


17 U.S. Code § 110 (2): TEACH Act: Allows educators to perform or display works in a distance education setting as long as the certain conditions are met that include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Teaching occurs at an accredited, nonprofit educational institution.
  • It takes place live. As with section 1, it does not extend to materials that are for students' independent use.
  • Only those students enrolled in the class can access the materials.
  • Reasonable efforts have been made to prevent students from distributing the material after viewing it.
  • Students must be informed that the materials they access are protected by copyright.
  • The educational institution must have a policy on the use of copyrighted materials and provide informative resources for faculty advising them on their rights.

As both §110 (1) and (2) can be limiting if scope, §107 Fair Use can still be applied taking into consideration the four factors of fair use.

Fair Use in the Classroom

Consider the following with the four factors of Fair Use:

1. Purpose of the Work

  • Materials should be used in the class
  • Students should not be charged directly for the material

2. Nature of the Work

  • Work should be relevant to the objectives of the course
  • The more creative a work is (short story, poem, art), the more narrowly fair use applies
  • Consumable work, such as workbooks or test forms, should not be distributed as they are meant to be used and repurchased

3. Amount of the Work

  • Materials are usually limited to brief works or brief excerpts
  • The amount used should be related to the objectives of the course

4. Effect on the Market for the Work

  • Consider if the copy would harm the sale of the copyrighted materials
  • Materials used in the classroom should include a citation of the original source and a copyright notice
  • Consider whether the material is reasonably available and affordable for students to purchase

Be sure to look at the Fair Use Worksheets on the Fair Use Page.