Copyright in the Classroom

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the ability " promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for a limited Time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." All of U.S. copyright law (and patent law) grows from this one brief phrase in the Constitution.  So what does this mean for Education?

The progress spoken of is a result of the economic and moral incentive to continue to create and develop works as a result of the exclusive rights granted to the creators. Because it helps us develop the arts, science, knowledge, and culture, we have a role as educators and content creators to make a good faith effort to respect these exclusive rights by understanding and abiding by copyright law.

Copyright owners have exclusive rights to do, or authorize others to do, the following things:

·         Make copies of the work

·         Distribute copies of the work (by selling, renting, lending, or giving it away)

·         Perform or display the work publicly

·         Make derivative works, like translations, adaptations, and reinterpretations

If copyright law didn't balance rights of the authors with the exemptions in the law, the incentive to create new works would be limited as all new works build on, are influenced by, and make references to works that have gone before. Moreover, since copyright has some fundamental public interest purposes like education; copyright law includes some important exemptions for teaching and scholarship.

The classroom exemption (also known as Section 110 (1)) provides instructors and students very broad rights to perform or display (not make copies of) legally obtained copyrighted works under specific conditions.  To qualify for this exemption, you must: be in a classroom ("or similar place devoted to instruction"). Be there in person, engaged in face-to-face teaching activities. Be at a nonprofit educational institution.

That means instructors, meeting the criteria, can play movies and music for their students, at any length. They can show students images, or original artworks. Students can perform readings of stories and poems, and act out scenes.  Students and instructors can do all these things without seeking permission, without giving anyone payment, and without having to deal with the complications of fair use.

The Classroom Use Exemption does not, however, apply to online teaching and learning, not even simultaneous distance learning interactions. We would need to qualify for yet another exemption, section 110 (2) or the TEACH Act to be able to do some of the same things in a limited way.


Adapted under the (cc) license from the University of Minnesota Libraries' website