Skip to Main Content

Copyright Resources for Faculty: Distance Learning

Distance Learning TEACH Act

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was signed in 2002, revising Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act to extend the face-to-face exemption to the online educational environment.  The Teach Act is triggered any time copyrighted works are transmitted in an online course that is restricted to registered students. This does not apply to open courses, such as MOOCs (e.g. Coursera, Novod, Langunita) or iTunes U. The TEACH Act applies to both the instructor's use and student use of copyrighted works within the educational setting

What the TEACH Act Permits

The TEACH Act permits the use of the following copyrighted materials:

  • performance of nondramatic literary works
  • performance of nondramatic musical works
  • performance of other works in a "reasonable and limited portions."
  • display of a work in the same amount that would be typical in a face-to-face setting.

Note: This does not include the transmission of textbook materials, materials that would be typically purchased or acquired by students, or copyrighted works that were created specifically for online use.

The performance or display of the work must:

  • be a regular part of mediated instructional activity
  • be made by, at the direction of, or under the supervision of the instructor
  • relate directly to and is of material assistance to course content

Technical restraints include:

  • access should be limited only to those students enrolled in the course
  • content is only accessible for the duration of a class session
  • content must be protected from further distribution (“downstream-controlled”)
  • content must not retained by students
  • content must include the copyright policy of the institution.  All material displayed must contain the following notice:

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998  was implemented in order to update copyright law for the digital environment. Title 1 of the DMCA specifically prohibits:

  • the circumvention of technological protection measures (i.e. digital rights management technology) or,
  • manufacturing devices with the intent to circumvent technological protection measures.

In the past, this has directly affected the ability to use copyrighted materials in a course that would otherwise qualify under fair use, like trying to record a small snippet of a film to aid in a class assignment to provide a more seamless lesson as opposed to having to fast forward to a specific section on a DVD.

The Librarian of Congress has the right to issue a three-year waiver in the event that anti-circumvention may adversely affect fair use and other non-infringing use.  This waiver essentially permits the use of small portions of a copyrighted work for either educational or accessibility related uses in higher education and are not subject to prohibition.  Note that the use of the copyrighted work must be directly related to the assigned coursework in order to qualify for the exemption.  The Librarian of Congress most recently renewed this waiver in 2018, which expires in October 2021.  To review these documents, visit the US Copyright Office's Rulemaking Proceedings Under Section 1201 of Title 17