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Copyright for Teaching

The Copyright Law of the United States includes limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright owners that allow the use of copyrighted materials for educational and research purposes without permission of the copyright owner. Some primary areas of exceptions are:

  • Fair Use
  • Face-to-Face Instruction
  • Online Instruction

Fair Use

Fair use provides the broadest and most flexible exception to copyright limitations. It is technology-and-format-neutral and can be applied to any medium.  A fair use determination requires a good faith analysis of four equally-weighted factors specified in the law. Fair use can be the most challenging and difficult determination to make. The following tools can help you understand the four factors, weigh them, and make an informed decision.

Whether something can be considered a fair use exception depends on four factors:

1. Purpose and character of the use and whether it is for commercial or educational/non-profit purposes

2. The nature of the copyrighted work (creative and imaginative versus factual)

3. Amount and substantiality of portion use

4. Effect of the potential market for or value of the work

The more factors that apply, the more likely something might be considered fair use.

Face-to-Face Instruction

Face-to-face instruction refers to the traditional classroom where the instructor and the students and the teaching and learning occur in the same place at the same time.  In this setting, all performances and displays of music, images, video, and text are allowed.


  1. Materials must be legally acquired
  2. Materials must be directly related to course content
  3. Materials must be for instructional and not entertainment purposes


For specific examples see

Online Instruction and the TEACH Act

The U.S. Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) was enacted to address the digital transmission of course materials to students in classes that take place exclusively online or in a traditional classroom with an online component such as Blackboard. TEACH allows comparable instruction in the online environment  to what takes place in face-to-face instruction. One of the major requirements of the law is that materials can only be digitally transmitted to students officially registered in the course.

There are a number of requirements for teaching, technology, and course materials that instructors must meet before using the TEACH exception. The following tools can help you track compliance with TEACH Act requirements. 

If all of the TEACH requirements cannot be met, then apply the Fair Use analysis to determine if permission is required.