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Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines

A brief overview of Copyright, Fair Use, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the TEACH Act.

TEACH Act: Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act

The TEACH Act is a copyright exemption that covers teaching conducted through digital transmission; it addresses performance and display of copyrighted materials used in teaching. Even if your class in-person courses, anything you transmit through course delivery systems, such as Canvas, falls under the TEACH Act, unless you choose to use Fair Use as an alternative.

Instructors have more privileges in face-to-face teaching situations for the use of copyrighted materials than in online instruction. The TEACH Act attempts to bring the two environments closer together, but the playing fields are still not level.

The TEACH Act does not cover the use of textual materials such as readings. 

Provisions of the Act

The Act allows teachers to show the full performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or display the following types of materials (partial list):

  • a sound recording of a poem
  • a sound recording of a piece of literature
  • a recorded symphony
  • still images, photographs (these are considered "displays")
  • still images from subscription databases if allowed by license
  • text if it is something that would normally be "displayed" in a face to face class; not if it is something only to be read by students

Instructors may only display reasonable and limited portions of dramatic works. Use only the portions that are necessary to make a point. (In-person instruction may use the following works in their entirety). The following are examples:

  • dramatic works
  • audio/visual works
  • musicals
  • operas
  • commercial films
  • music videos

Instructors may not transmit or display instructional materials, without permission or licensing, which students are commonly expected to purchase such as:

  • textbooks
  • coursepacks
  • workbooks
  • digital educational work (made for the purpose of performance or display for use in mediated instruction)

Works produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks should not be copied, but purchased and used as intended by the publisher.

Obligations of the teacher under the TEACH Act:

  • The performance or display is made by or under the supervision of an instructor.
  • The performance or display is directly related and integral to the class content, not ancillary like Reserves
  • The work is part of systematic mediated instructional activities
  • The "transmission is made solely for and limited to students officially enrolled in the course."
  • Materials that are used for performance or display must be lawfully made and acquired.
  • Instructor must use reasonable controls to prevent copying and retention of the work, those that would "discourage most users." (streaming is suggested for video; thumbnails, watermarks and disabling right click copy function can be used to protect images.)
  • A digital copy may be made from an analog copy when no digital version is available or when the digital version is technologically protected.
  • Work must carry a warning notice to students. Examples:

Linking to a direct link vs. PDF

According to the TEACH Act, if the institution has a direct link to a source that the course is using, then instructors are required to use the direct link to the source rather than uploading the material to the internet. Due to the licensing agreements between databases and libraries, there are regulations as to how institutions may use the articles for which they have temporary permissions. By linking directly from the database, the instructor and the institution eliminate the risk of not complying with the Copyright Law.
For assistance in creating a permalink Ask-a-Librarian.


Must I use the TEACH Act when I teach online?

No, you can choose to teach under the TEACH Act which carries more requirements or use Fair Use which carries more risk.

Can I digitize an analog video (i.e. VHS) to show it to my distance education class?

Yes, in an amount limited to what is necessary for the class, if:

  • there is no digital version available to your institution at a reasonable price
  • the digitized copy is retained by the institution
  • it is used only for teaching under Section 110(2) critiera
  • if no one circumvents technological protection measures to make the digital copy.

Can I reuse my materials later in the semester for the same class?

Yes, you can reshow or redisplay the content to support your curriculum later in the semester, even if you used it earlier.

Does the Teach Act apply just to credit courses at Rockhurst?

No, it can be used with non-credit courses also.

How Do I Use "reasonable controls" to protect images and performances shown in Canvas?

The best way to transmit film media in Canvas in order to be in compliance with the TEACH ;is with the use of streaming.

Other suggested methods for protecting copyrighted images or photos include the use of low resolution images, thumbnails, digital watermarks, using the image as a background in a table or using digital rights management. For details see Tips and Techniques to Protect Images on the Internet.

When considering the use of media in online teaching, technological protection measures or digital rights management may come into play. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act carries strict prohibitions against overriding TPMs and DRM.

Institutional Criteria for the TEACH ACT

  • Must be an accredited, non-profit, educational institution or governmental body
  • The institution "institutes policies regarding copyright, provides informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members that accurately describe, and promote compliance with, the laws of the United States relating to copyright, and provides notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection."
  • The institution applies technological measures that reasonably prevent: 
    1. retention of the work in accessible form by recipients of the transmission from the transmitting body or institution for longer than the class session; and
    2. The institution "does not engage in conduct that could reasonably be expected to interfere with technological measures used by copyright owners to prevent such retention or unauthorized further dissemination."

Tools to help you with the TEACH Act

Teach Act Checklist: provides users with a checklist to determine if a use falls under the TEACH Act. Developed by the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University Libraries.

TEACH ACT analysis and commentary:  resources and analysis from the American Library Association

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