Copyright, Tools & Tips

Copyright Exceptions for Teaching: Classroom Exception & TEACH Act

By Hannah Herrlich, Access Services Support Staff & Online Learning Assistant and Laura Childs, Former Emerging Technologies Librarian

We often get questions from professors about copyright restrictions that affect their ability to teach. Fortunately, there are exceptions built into copyright law that protect certain educational uses of copyrighted material.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to the Classroom Exception and the TEACH Act. A third exception, known as fair use, is also useful for instructors to know about. You can learn about fair use in this blog post, or on our copyright resource guide.

Note: we are librarians, not lawyers (at least not yet). This post is solely meant to provide information and guidance, not to offer legal advice or guaranteed answers. All copyright issues must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

A lecture hall with many seats
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Classroom Exception

When you are teaching an in-person class, you have a certain degree of freedom to use copyrighted material for educational purposes. That is because of the Classroom Exception, which is defined in Title 17, Section 110(1) of U.S. copyright law. This exception allows for the performance or display of copyrighted works in a face-to-face class, as long as you meet certain requirements.

These requirements can permit legal use of copyrighted performances or displays in a classroom setting if:

  • Materials are legally obtained
  • Classroom is a face-to-face setting
  • Use is educational
  • Class is part of a nonprofit institution
  • Only enrolled students have access

These common scenarios are (generally) protected under the Classroom Exception:

  • Watching a film
  • Playing a song
  • Displaying artwork
  • Reciting or displaying a text
  • Performing a portion of a play

What isn’t covered?

The Classroom Exception applies only to “performance or display” of copyrighted works – it does not apply to making reproductions of copyrighted works (including coursepacks). In cases where you need to make copies, it becomes a question of whether or not fair use applies.

It only applies to in-person teaching – scroll down to learn about the TEACH Act, which applies to online teaching.

When you really need to use a copyrighted work, but you’re exceeding the bounds of copyright exceptions, getting permission from the copyright holder is always an option. It can be a lengthy process with mixed results, but there are creators out there who are willing to grant permissions for educators.

Use the acronym "LEARN" as a guide to understanding how you can safely share course materials with your students under the TEACH Act:

Legal: Post materials that were legally acquired or purchased.
External: Provide external permalinks to content that is licensed by the library.
Access: Restrict access to the content once the course has concluded.
Redistribute: Remind students not to redistribute copyrighted works.
Notice: Include copyright notices for each individual material.
Use the acronym “LEARN” as a guide to understanding how you can safely share course materials with your students under the TEACH Act.


The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, commonly known as the TEACH Act, was enacted by Congress on October 4, 2002. The TEACH Act allows for the performance or display of copyrighted works, comparable to use in a face-to-face classroom setting.

These are common exemption examples covered by the TEACH Act:

  • “Reasonable and limited” portions of a film or song
  • Perform a portion of a play
  • Display artwork as part of a lecture
  • Recite or display a portion of a text

Using copyrighted material in class can be a tricky area to navigate since deciding on what material can and cannot be used is often left to the discretion of the user. Following a TEACH Act checklist is a helpful way to determine whether copyrighted material is permissible to use.

If everything on this list can be checked off, then the work should be okay to use. 

  1. A copyright notice is included
  2. Materials are legally obtained
  3. The work is transmitted during class time only
  4. Only enrolled students have access
  5. There is an effort to limit further distribution (ex. password protection, limited time access, streaming options)
  6. The least amount necessary is used

In sum, it is likely that copyrighted material will be used at some point during course instruction. It can be difficult to determine what constitutes fair use and what crosses into copyright infringement. Using handy evaluation tools like the TEACH Act checklist above or a Copyright & Fair Use evaluation guide, can be helpful in deciding the appropriate measures for using copyrighted materials.

To learn more about copyright use in the classroom, visit the university libraries’ research guide. If you have specific questions or would like to schedule a consultation, visit the resource guide for contact information.

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