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Copyright in the Classroom (and Beyond)

A quick intro guide to copyright law in regard to educational uses

History of the TEACH Act

While the Classroom Exception allows for use of copyrighted works in physical settings, it does not extend to virtual classrooms. In 2002 the TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act) was signed into law and appears in Section 110, paragraph (2), and was intended to extend the Classroom Exception to distance learning. 

The TEACH Act contains a number of specific requirements that must be met in order to be usable and many instructors find it cumbersome to to meet. 

TEACH Act Requirements

  • Accredited, nonprofit institution
  • Institution must have policies regarding copyright (RIT University Copyright Policy)
  • Institution must have disseminated information about US Copyright Law to faculty, students, and staff 
  • Copies for the purpose of transmitting the work are retained an used solely by the institution
  • Copies of the work can only be maintained for the amount of time reasonably necessary to facilitate the transmission
  • Institution cannot interfere with digital rights management technology to access or share the work
  • Digital transmission must be:
    • Performance of non-dramatic literary or musical work (songs but not plays or operas) OR
    • Performance of any other work in "reasonable or limited portions" 
    • An amount comparable to what is typically displayed in a live/physical classroom setting
  • Work is not marketed for educational use
  • Work is not a textbooks, course pack, or other media usually purchased by students
  • Work was legally acquired
  • Use of work is part of "mediated instructional activities" (directly related to teaching content)
  • Materials must include notice to students that they may be subject to copyright protection
  • Access to materials must be limited to students enrolled in the course
  • Technological measures must prevent:
    • Retention of work beyond the class session or semester
    • Unauthorized dissemination of the work (downloading, copy/pasting, screenshotting) 

If you are able to meet all of the TEACH Act requirements, then performing or displaying a piece of media via a distance learning classroom is NOT and infringement of copyright. Some of the requirements, such as those regarding technological measures, you may have to contact ITS about. 

To document your evaluation of the TEACH Act, fill out a TEACH Act checklist and keep a copy for your records. 

If you are not confident that you are able to meet all of the TEACH Act parameters, consider if your use may be considered a Fair Use. 


This is not legal advice. RIT Libraries can provide information and research assistance on the topics of copyright and fair use. Questions about legal advice and legal recommendations should be directed to RIT’s Office of Legal Affairs. For RIT's definitive institutional policy regarding copyright, visit the RIT University Copyright Policy.

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