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Copyright and Intellectual Property: Fair Use in the Classroom

This guide serves as an introduction to copyright resources and best practices. It is not meant as legal advice.

Fair Use Evaluator

This tool is designed to help you determine the "fairness" of a use under the U.S. Copyright Code.

Exceptions for Instructors

The U.S. Copyright Code provides for the educational use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder under certain conditions. Use this free online tool to find out if your intended use meets the requirements set out in the law.

Fair Use - What are the limits?

Limitations on Exclusive Rights

The practice of "fair use" has been codified in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.  It states:

"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 in 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-

  • 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.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.  (17 U.S.C. ¤ 107)


On November 2, 2002, the "Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act" (the TEACH Act), was signed into law.  This legislation attempts to address the special needs of online distance education in regards to copyright requirements. At the same time, the TEACH Act is not a carte blanche for allowing any amount of content to be made accessible to distance education students. 

In order for the use of copyrighted materials in distance 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.    

(From Copyright Clearance Center, Copyright Basics: The TEACH Act)

Fair Use Tools

A handy form from Columbia University Libraries to help determine whether use of a particular copyrighted work for another particular use would be heavily weighted toward fair use.
From the University of Minnesota, this is an interactive tool to evaluate fair use in particular cases.
From the Center for Social Media, American University. This site is a set of teaching tools for instructors to teach their students when they are making films and videos.
The goal of the Index is to make the principles and application of fair use more accessible and understandable to the public by presenting a searchable database of court opinions, including by category and type of use (e.g., music, internet/digitization, parody).

TEACH Act Resources

Fair Use

For more information on Fair Use, its application to teaching, and best practices, see the following:

 From the Center for Social Media. Best practices for instructors teaching media literacy concepts in interpreting copyright and fair use.
From the Center for Social Media. Copyright best practices when using OpenCourseWare.
American University, Center for Social Media
Association of Research Libraries, ARL
Extensive information, including a blog, on fair use of copyrighted materials.

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