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Copyright and teaching: An overview

Copyright law is designed both to protect creators and owners of works as well as encourage the pursuit of knowledge and creation of new works. In certain situations, U.S.Copyright Act provisions allow educators and libraries to use materials that are copyright protected without requesting permission from the copyright holder.   

Fair Use


Fair use is defined in 17 U.S.C. 107 as: 

"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

TEACH act (Online education)

The TEACH act allows educators to display copyrighted materials when teaching an online course. There are many requirements that must be adhered to in order to implement the TEACH act in an online course environment. 

Use of materials must be limited to performance or display, and not related to independent student activity, considered analogous to in class teaching

Classroom exemption

The classroom exemption is intended to encourage the sharing, creation, and dissemination of information in an educational setting.

You may display a work or perform a work in class without obtaining permission so long as the use is for instructional purposes in a face to face environment. A fair use analysis should be conducted when using materials for an online environment. This applies to the showing of a film, movie, or television show, display of images, charts, and graphs in a presentation, and the playing or performing of music.

Following a positive fair use analysis, photocopies for classroom use and distribution to students should be limited to a single course for a single semester. Only one copy should be distributed to each student, which then becomes their property. Copies should always include a copyright notice on the first page.  


Sharing materials

Fair use, the TEACH act, and the classroom exemption are provisions to assist educators in being able to access and share quality information throughout their curriculum. One commonality among these exceptions and provisions is that all involve sharing copyrighted resources with other individuals for specific purposes. 

What not to do


  • Leave attribution of a source off of a presentation or copy 
  • Share a copyright protected item on the web. 
  • Make copies of an unlawfully obtained or unlawfully copied work
  • Make copies of a consumable item, such as a chapter of a workbook to hand out to a class
  • Make copies of a work created for student purchase, such as a chapter from a textbook
  • Copy an entire work for classroom handout. 


  • Using multiple excerpts or works from the same publication
  • Term to term use when making photocopies


  • Include full citation information, and if applicable, copyright statement for any work shared
  • Protect any copyright protected reproduction on the web by password, making it accessible to a single course for a single semester.
  • When possible provide links to resources found freely on the web or from the library's eresource collections rather than making copies of the original work, especially when planning on using for multiple semesters. 
  • Displaying works is preferable to making copies
  • Verify copyright status before using
  • When in doubt request permission