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Copyright for Educators

Information about Copyright, Fair Use, & the Teach Act


Use this guide to find information about Copyright, Fair Use, and the Teach Act in education
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How to Use this Guide

Basic information about copyright law in relation to education can be found on the introduction page of the guide. 

Click on the tabs to find additional information, such as websites and tools, books, and videos about copyright in education. 

The information found in this guide is not intended to replace legal advice on issues of copyright, fair use, and the TEACH Act, but it may prove to be a useful resource for you to learn more about the possible ways that copyrighted materials can be used in the education setting.

What is Copyright?

A general definition of copyright is "the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical or artistic work)" - from Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In the United States, copyright protection is part of the U.S. Constitution. (Article I, Section 8). In Article 1, section 8, Congress is given the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

 Copyright protection has been written into law--it is part of the U.S. Code, in Title 17, including:

  • Title 17,  Chapter 1, Section 106 of the U.S. Code, specifies  "Exclusive Rights in Copyrighted Works". 
  • Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 106A of the U.S. Code, specifies  the "Rights of Certain Authors to Attribution and Integrity".


What is Fair Use?

"Fair Use" is also a part of U.S. copyright law. It has become one of the most important counterbalances to the exclusive rights of a copyright owner.

Fair Use permits some use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes such as criticism, scholarship, comment, teaching, news reporting, and research. Rather than listing exact limits of fair use, the fair use section of copyright law provides four standards for determination of fair use.

As part of the Copyright Act of 1976, Congress codified the Fair Use doctrine into Section 107 of the Act, and it became part of the U.S. Code, as:

  •  Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107, "Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use"

Fair Use  Section 107 is what is legally known as an "exemption." The Fair Use exemption is an "exception to the rule," allowing certain uses of copyrighted materials, notwithstanding  Section 106 and Section 106A . 

To determine if an educational use is covered under the Fair Use exemption, educators should consider four factors.

The four factors of Fair Use to be considered are:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

These factors are broadly defined in U.S Copyright law on purpose, to ensure that the idea of fair use is responsive to a wide variety of situations, both now and in the future.  


Other Legislation: The DMCA and the TEACH Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) had an impact on education in that it revised the terms on which faculty, librarians, students, and staff may use email, websites, and other technology at the university. It updated U.S.copyright law as a response to issues of the digital age, such as technical issues and encryption. The DMCA mentioned that the fair use doctrine still remains a viable defense in copyright infringement matters but does not go into extensive detail.  In section 403 of the DMCA, distance education is mentioned, and there was a directive to the Copyright Office to consult with affected groups and make timely recommendations to Congress of how to promote distance education through digital technologies; that process eventually helped lead to the creation of the TEACH Act of 2002.

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) was enacted in 2002. It was essentially an amendment to Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 110(2), "Limitations on Exclusive rights: Exemption of Certain Performances and Displays" of copyright law.  Section 110 allows instructors to show videos to groups of students as long as that viewing takes place "face-to-face" in a classroom, but the TEACH Act expanded that to include certain situations in online distance education as well, as long as some conditions are met. 

For more information about copyright law in general, recent legislation, and revisions, visit the U.S Copyright Office "Law and Policy" web page.  

KCTCS Administrative Policies:related to Intellectual Property and Copyright

Libraries and Copyright

 Section 108 of copyright law allows libraries and archives to make a copy of an item they own, under certain circumstances. This exemption allows libraries and archives to make a copy of a item in their collection, to preserve it from destruction, such as when a library or archive copies an old or damaged book to retain its contents for posterity. Also, the section 108 exception is used by libraries and archives to enable ILL (Interlibrary Loan) of materials, from one library to another library, for the purpose of scholarly study or research. 

  •  Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 108, "Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Reproduction by Libraries and Archives."

Libraries, like individuals, also have rights under Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107  (Fair Use).  Also, in Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 109, a library's right to lend items is mentioned.

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Maureen Cropper
Librarian / Professor
BCTC - Lexington, KY


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