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Copyright Basics Guide

Copyright in the Classroom

Due to specific exceptions in U.S. Copyright Law to promote educational activities, faculty and staff may be allowed to clip, scan, quote, copy, show, and display copyrighted works for educational purposes. It is important to understand what these exceptions are, as well as the differences between in-person and online classes, in order to be compliant with the law. 


Educational Uses by the U.S. Copyright Office via YouTube

General Guidelines

According to 17 U.S. Code § 110, there are several exceptions that allow for the use of copyrighted materials in a face-to-face classroom. 17 U.S. Code § 110:

  • Allows performance or display of protected material in a face-to-face teaching setting.
  • Stipulates that use of these materials must be in a classroom and at a non-profit educational institution.
  • Provides an exception to the exclusive rights of performance and display, but not the right of reproduction. 
  • States that performance and display in the classroom must be a legally-obtained copy

American University has created an extensive guide on What Faculty Need to Know About Copyright for Teaching. While not all sections may be relevant to FDU and this should be used as a tool, this guide can be used to answer some frequently asked questions about sharing articles, art, music, and other resources in the classroom.

Online Classrooms

The TEACH Act from 2002 is an exception permitting the use of copyright works in online education. Implementation of the law requires adopting copyright policy, putting in place a variety of technological protections, and adhering to specific limits on the copyrighted works that may be used (Crews 2020). It is also important to note that the TEACH Act does not take the place of fair use laws or existing digital license agreements.

Among other factors, in order for the use of copyrighted materials in distance education to qualify for the TEACH Act exemptions, the following criteria must be met:

  • The institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution.
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities.
  • The use must be limited to a specific number of students enrolled in a specific class.
  • The use must either be for ‘live’ or asynchronous class sessions.

What is allowed under the TEACH Act? 

  • Performances of nondramatic literary works
  • Performances of nondramatic musical works
  • Performances of any other work, including dramatic works and audiovisual works, but only in 'reasonable and limited portions"
  • Displays of any work "in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session"

What is not allowed under the TEACH Act?

  • Electronic reserves, coursepacks (electronic or paper) or interlibrary loan (ILL)
  • Commercial document delivery
  • Textbooks or other digital content provided under license from the author, publisher, aggregator or other entity
  • Conversion of materials from analog to digital formats, except when the converted material is used solely for authorized transmissions and when a digital version of a work is unavailable or protected by technological measures

To help determine if your use of materials falls under the TEACH Act, you can use the following checklist. Note: This is a tool to be used as a guide; U.S. Copyright Law must be carefully considered when making a decision. 

Sources: Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators by Kenneth D. Crews (2020) and Copyright Clearance Center

Best Practices

Classroom Copyright Best Practices and Tips

Best Practices for using Copyright in the Classroom:

  • Do not copy a significant amount from one particular work. 
  • Use works shared with an open use or Creative Commons license. 
  • Cite the work and, if available, provide a copyright notice.
  • Provide a permanent link to material rather than uploading a PDF copy.
  • Use the minimum amount necessary to accomplish your teaching goals. You should be able to explain how the selected works relate to course outcomes or objectives.
  • Use library resources. The library negotiates licenses to online content that allow for classroom and reserves use.
  • Do not copy materials such as tests, worksheets, etc.
  • If you are unsure that your use of a material is a copyright violation, try to alter your use to fit under fair use laws and consult U.S. Copyright Law directly. 


Disclaimer: The information presented in this guide is intended for information purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.