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Teaching Exemptions

Section 110 of the US Copyright Act contains two important exemptions for professors: Subsection one is commonly referred to as the classroom exemption, while subsection two is the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) Act. Together, these two subsections provide guidance for professors on the use of copyrighted materials in the traditional classroom and in online classes.

Section 110.1 (Classroom Exemption)

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

What This Means for Professors

You can use your own or the library’s copy of a video to show your face-to-face classes. You cannot use bootleg copies, and you do not have to have public performance rights.


Section 110.2 (TEACH Act)

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(2) except with respect to a work produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks, or a performance or display that is given by means of a copy or phonorecord that is not lawfully made and acquired under this title, and the transmitting government body or accredited nonprofit educational institution knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made and acquired, the performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or reasonable and limited portions of any other work, or display of a work in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session, by or in the course of a transmission, if—

  • (A) the performance or display is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of a governmental body or an accredited nonprofit educational institution;
  • (B) the performance or display is directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content of the transmission;
  • (C) the transmission is made solely for, and, to the extent technologically feasible, the reception of such transmission is limited to—
    • (i) students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is made; or
    • (ii) officers or employees of governmental bodies as a part of their official duties or employment; and
  • (D) the transmitting body or institution—
    • (i) 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; and
    • (ii) in the case of digital transmissions—
      • (I) applies technological measures that reasonably prevent—
        • (aa) 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
        • (bb) unauthorized further dissemination of the work in accessible form by such recipients to others; and
      • (II) 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;

What This Means for Professors

If you have materials such as images or videos that you want to use as an integrated part of an online class’s content, first you must be sure that it is a “nondramatic literary or musical work,” or you can only show “reasonable and limited portions” of other types of works. For example, you can show an entire documentary on coastal erosion, but you may show only clips of To Kill a Mockingbird.

You cannot use the TEACH Act provision for materials that are created specifically for students to purchase such as textbooks, workbooks, or other digital education materials created for personal consumption.

Then, you may provide access to the materials only for students enrolled in the class, and only the length of time they need it for their assignments and study.

ECU as an institution must have copyright policies and information available (we do); you will also need to provide a copyright notice to your students.

ECU as an institution must use “technological measures that reasonably prevent” students from being able to save their own copy and from distributing it further. ECU’s implementation of Blackboard meets these requirements. Contact Ginny Sconiers in ITCS about how ECU meets these guidelines.

Specifically for streaming videos: ECU Libraries maintain a variety of subscriptions to video databases. Professors may link to videos within these databases so that their students can use them. If the library does not currently provide access to a streaming copy of a video you need for class, feel free to contact your liaison librarian or Cindy Shirkey, Head of Collection Development for Joyner Library, to inquire whether the library might be able to purchase it.

The TEACH Act requirements are somewhat convoluted. Professors may also choose to conduct a Fair Use Evaluation, link to a library-provided streaming copy, or get permission from the copyright holder for their use. Contact the Copyright Officer if you have further questions.


TEACH Act Checklist:

Additional Sources on the TEACH Act