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Copyright Laws and Guidelines: Home

A guide to copyright in the classroom. Includes an overview of Copyright Law, common scenarios, Fair Use Guidelines, The TEACH Act, and useful tools for guiding decision-making.

The Purpose of Copyright Law


“The goal of copyright law and policy is to foster the progress of science, the creation of culture, and the dissemination of ideas...We as a society give limited property rights to creators to encourage them to produce science and culture; at the same time, we guarantee that all works eventually will become part of the public domain and, in the meantime, we give other creators and speakers the opportunity to use copyrighted material without permission or payment in some circumstances.

~Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries (Association of Research Libraries)

Limitations of Exclusive Rights

Statutory Exceptions & Authorizations

Copyright law is intentionally limited by the following exceptions and additional authorizations:

Fair Use Guidelines (Copyright Law, Section 107)

Flexible guidelines that allow the re-use of copyrighted materials, especially in the context of an academic setting, within reason. 

More on Fair Use Guidelines

TEACH Act Authorizations (Teach Act, Amending Copyright Law, Section 110(2))

Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002

Generally authorizes you to use works in a virtual classroom the same way that you would in a live classroom environment. You are required to implement certain technical restriction to 'recreate' the conditions of a live classroom. 

More on the TEACH Act

Exemptions of certain performances and displays [for classroom use] (Copyright Law, Section 110(1))

Instructors and pupils do not need to ask for permission to perform or display copyrighted work within the classroom setting (face-to-face teaching activities at a nonprofit educational institution). However, be sure you're working from a legally acquired copy. 

Reproduction by libraries and archives (Copyright Law, Section 108)

Reproduction for the blind or other people with disabilities (Copyright Law, Section 121)

Time Limitations

Eventually, all works will lose their copyright and fall into the public domain. Usually this is the life of the author plus 70 years, or works published before 1924. However, copyright can be renewed and certain additional stipulations may apply, so it's best to check first in on the details before assuming. Take a look at these easy to use tools below to help guide your investigation.

Easy Copyright Checking Tools

Digital Copyright Date Slider Tool (Michael Brewer & ALA Office for Information Technology Policy)

Copyright Genie Tool (Michael Brewer & ALA Office for Information Technology Policy)

Online Copyright Search for Renewals (U.S. Copyright Office)

Copyright Checkpoint 

Subject Matter Limitations

Facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, concepts, principles or discoveries cannot be copyrighted. However, some of these can be protected by patent or trade secret laws.

Government documents are not copyrighted.

Blank forms and similar works designed to record rather than to convey information are also not copyrighted. 

Copyright Holder Has Exculsive Rights

Exclusive Rights

  • To reproduce the work
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • To prohibit other persons from using the work without permission
  • To perform the work publicly

Legal Disclaimer

This guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

Creative Commons License