Copyright in the Online Classroom

Since the Classroom Use Exemption simply does not apply in the online environment, most of the time, your online teaching uses are only legal if they are fair uses. However, in limited circumstances, the TEACH Act may provide some support for your uses.  Implementing TEACH can be difficult because of its complexity and the many detailed requirements for instructors, technologists, and institutions.

Section 110 (2) was  revised by enactment of The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) which was signed into law on November 2, 2002. TEACH allows the digital transmission of performances and displays of copyrighted works, without having to obtain prior permission from the copyright owner, as part of synchronous or asynchronous distance education applications if the following requirements are met:


  • Accredited, nonprofit educational institution
  • Controlled by or under the actual supervision of the instructor


  • Performances of nondramatic literary works or musical works
  • Performances of reasonable portions of any other work, or
  • Display of any other work in an amount comparable to that typically displayed in a live classroom setting


  • Digital educational works (Works produced or marketed primarily for performance/display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks) or
  • Unlawful copies (copies you know or reasonably should know were not lawfully made or acquired)


  • As an integral part of a class session, and
  • As part of systematic mediated instructional activities, and
  • Directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content


  • Transmission made solely for and reception limited to (as technologically feasible) students enrolled in the course, and
  • Technological measures that reasonably prevent:
    • Retention in accessible form for a class session and
    • Unauthorized further dissemination in accessible form, and
  • No interference with copyright holder's technological measures that prevent such retention and dissemination

Converting Analog to Digital:

Converting analog to digital is permissible when

  • No digital version available to the institution, or
  • The available digital version is technologically protected to prevent TEACH uses

Institutional Requirements:

  • Disseminate copyright policies
  • Provide accurate information about copyright
  • Promote copyright compliance
  • Provide notice to students that course materials may be protected by copyright

Instructor Requirements:

Instructors who want to incorporate works into digital transmissions for instructional purposes applying TEACH should:

  • Avoid use of commercial works that are sold or licensed for purposes of delivery of digital content for distance education purposes.
  • Avoid use of pirated works, or works where you otherwise have reason to know the copy was not lawfully made.
  • Generally, limit use of works to an amount and duration comparable to what would be displayed or performed in a physical classroom setting. In other words, TEACH does not authorize the digital transmission of textbooks or coursepacks to students.
  • Supervise the digital performance or display, make it an integral part of a class session, and make it part of a systematic mediated instructional activity. In other words, the faculty should interactively use the copyrighted work as part of a class assignment in the distance education course. It should not be an entertainment add-on or passive background/optional reading.
  • Use tools provided by the university to limit access to the works to students enrolled in the course, to prevent downstream copying by those students, and to prevent the students from retaining the works for longer than a "class session."
  • Notify the students that the works may be subject to copyright protection and that they may not violate the legal rights of the copyright holder.


The TEACH Act Summary is a good tool to assure your compliance with TEACH.

Checklist for TEACH Act ( PDF)