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Copyright for Educators

This guide can help faculty and staff understand the exceptions and limitations to copyright in an academic setting

Classroom Use Exception

The Classroom Use exception, defined in section 110(1) of copyright law, specifically permits the performance or display of copyrighted works during face-to-face instruction. There are a few qualifiers:

  1. Must be in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction
  2. Must be a non-profit educational institution
  3. Must be legally obtained materials

It is important to note that the Classroom Use exception does not  allow for the reproduction, preparation of derivatives, or the distribution of materials. These exclusive rights remain with the creator or copyright holder.


The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) of 2002 amended section 110(2) of copyright law to clarify  the conditions under which copyrighted materials could be transmitted in an on-line or distance education environment. Although fairly restrictive, the TEACH Act is really the first step towards accommodating the needs of distance education participants.

Below is the shortened list of requirements that must be met in order to qualify for protection under the TEACH Act:


  • An accredited nonprofit educational institution or government body


  • Performances of nondramatic literary works
  • Performances of nondramatic musical works
  • Performances of reasonable and limited portions of any other works
  • Displays of any other work
    • Amount = comparable to that typically displayed in a live classroom


  • Part of the systematic mediated instructional activities
  • At the direction of or under the actual supervision of the instructor
  • Integral part of the class session
  • Directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content


  • Transmission is made for and limited to students enrolled in the class
    • insomuch as is technically feasable
  • Technological measures are in place that reasonably prevent:
    • Retention beyond the class session
    • Unauthorized further dissemination

The Main Differences




ELIGIBILITY Nonprofit educational institutions Accredited nonprofit educational institutions & government bodies
ACTIVITY Face-to-face teaching  Transmissions & over digital networks
WORKS COVERED Limited to performance of nondramatic literary & musical works but display of all works Performance of nondramatic literary & musical works, reasonable & limited portions of other works – except works produced of marketed primarily for display as part of mediated instructional activity via digital network
LIMITATIONS For instruction, not entertainment Display of any work in amount comparable to that typically displayed in live classroom.
Performance of reasonable & limited portions of all except nondramatic literary & musical works (full for these)
None (1)  Systematic mediated instructional activity
(2)  At direction of or under actual supervision of instructor
(3)  Integral part of class session
COPY RESTRICTIONS For audiovisual works, copy must have been lawfully made  For all works, copy must have been lawfully made
WHERE In a “classroom”  Anywhere but with technological conditions met
WHO Students & teachers Solely for students officially enrolled in course or officers or  government employees as part of official duties or employment
TECHNOLOGICAL RESTRICTIONS No transmission (1)  Apply technological measures that reasonably prevent recipients from retaining works beyond the class session & further distributing them
(2)  No interference with technological protections taken by copyright owner that prevent retention & distribution
DIGITIZING WORKS Not mentioned Okay to digitize portion of analog  work in amount authorized under § 110(2) if:
(1)  No digital version is available or
(2)  Digital version available subject to technological measures that prevent its distance education use
LIABILITY Infringement Infringement, but not for:
(1)  Automatic transient or temporary storage or
(2)  Loading copies of works that embody § 110(2) authorized performances


Source: Created by Laura Gasaway at UNC Chapel Hill. Original chart located here.

Useful Tools

Useful Tips

Here is a set of best practices, developed by the University of Colorado system, to help guide you when using copyrighted materials in an on-line classroom environment:

Link Up!

  • If possible, provide students with links to resources instead of copies

Use Only What is Necessary

  • If you don't plan to cover it, don't provide access to it. The library's reserve desk is a better place for "recommended" or "optional" materials

Limit Access

  • Access to copyrighted materials should be limited to enrolled students for only the necessary amount of time

Keep Students Informed

  • Provide your students with pertinent information regarding the copyright status of the works used in class