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Copyright Basics for Faculty, Staff, and Students: Fair Use & Exemptions

Fair Use

Fair use is one of many statutory rights to use copyright-protected works for commentary, parody, news reporting, research and education. Fair use is more of a "legal defense" than an exception to copyright compliance. If someone claims copyright infringement against you and you assert a defense of fair use, then you must be able to prove it. To do so, Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 lists four factors to help determine types of content usage that may be considered fair use. It also includes many other provisions allowing uses of works in the classroom, in libraries, and for many other purposes. 

Fair use depends on a reasoned and balanced application of the four factors.  No one factor alone dictates whether a particular use is indeed fair use.

  • the purpose of the use
  • the nature of the work used
  • the amount used
  • and the effect of the use on the market for the original

Use the Checklist, available through Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office, to help analyze the four fair use factors. It is advisable to keep a copy of your checklist for future reference to show that a reasonable effort was made to determine fair use. The checklist is used with permission from Dr. Kenneth Crews, Director, Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University. 

TEACH Act - Online Teaching

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act (Section 110 (2)) facilitates and enables the performance and display of copyrighted materials for distance education.

Teach Requirements

In exchange for unprecedented access to copyright-protected material for distance education, the TEACH Act requires that the academic institution meet specific requirements for copyright compliance and education. For the full list of requirements, refer to the TEACH Act.

In order for the use of copyrighted materials in online education to qualify for the TEACH 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.
  • The use must not include the transmission of textbook materials, materials "typically purchased or acquired by students," or works developed specifically for online uses.
  • Only "reasonable and limited portions," such as might be performed or displayed during a typical live classroom session, may be used.
  • The institution must have developed and publicized its copyright policies, specifically informing students that course content may be covered by copyright, and include a notice of copyright on the online materials.
  • The institution must implement some technological measures to ensure compliance with these policies, beyond merely assigning a password. Ensuring compliance through technological means may include user and location authentication through Internet Protocol (IP) checking, content timeouts, print-disabling, cut & paste disabling, etc.

What TEACH Does Not Allow

The new exemptions under TEACH specifically do not extend to:

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.
It is also important to note that TEACH does not supersede fair use or existing digital license agreements. Please refer to the Copyright Clearance Center for more information on the TEACH Act.

Classroom Teaching (Face to Face)

Under the exception in Section 110 (1), educators may make performances and displays of all types of works in face-to-face teaching in a classroom or similar place at most educational institutions. It allows instructors and students to recite poetry, read plays, show videos, play music, project slides, and engage in many other performances and displays of protected works in the classroom setting.  It only permits displays and performances in the classroom-not the making of copies or posting of digital works on servers. 

Public Domain & Creative Commons

Public Domain works may be used without obtaining copyright permission, because copyright does not apply for the following reasons:

Copyright has expired.  Older works may not be covered by copyright.  More information on dates of copyright may be found on the Cornell University Copyright page.

The document was created by the U.S. Federal government.  Copyright does not apply to these documents.

The creator has opted to relinquish their intellectual property rights by making their works available for use, sometimes with limitations.

Creative Commons

Some creators may license their works for use in certain circumstances, via a Creative Commons license.  For more information on using a Creative Commons license, see the Creative Commons Guide created by the American University Library System.