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Copyright: Copyright for Teaching

A guide for students and instructors. This guide is not intended to be legal advice. It was not created by lawyers. It is designed to provide general information about copyright and intellectual property.

Copyright for Teaching

lecture by designvector from the Noun ProjectThis page provides some guidelines and resources to appropriately use copyrighted materials for teaching and resources to find materials freely available without copyright restrictions. 

Faculty retains copyright for course materials developed for teaching at TUN. See Copyright for Creators tab to protect and share your teaching materials outside of TUN. Refer to your contract for details.

Places to find materials not under Copyright

Copyright Considerations for Class Use

Copyright law has lenient provisions for the use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes, but there are strict guidelines that limit how a work can be reused. For example:

  • Screening an entire film is not necessarily protected for educational purposes. When showing media (videos, films, YouTube, Vimeo, or other) in class, limit to brief clips and encourage students to access longer videos outside of class through the library or other legal sources.
  • Posting a copyrighted article or book chapter for all students to access without permission or without paying for access is not necessarily allowed, especially for materials that are meant specifically for students (such as textbooks) where the copyright owners expect to be paid for the use of their content by students. Do not email or share documents, articles, or texts without obtaining permission to do so. Best practice is to provide the link to the original source. If the library has access, link through the library's portal.

Distribution Scenario 1

Scenario: You find an article in a scholarly journal relevant to a class taught regularly and would like to distribute this article to students each time the course is taught. Is this fair use?

Response: The distribution of an article to students can be fair use. In this scenario, it would be better to place the article on reserve in the library or to direct students to the article via a library resource such as a database.

Scenario credited to Touro College Libraries 

Reproduction of Copyrighted Works for Educators and Librarians

Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians provides guidance for educators and librarians to legally distribute copies of copyrighted materials. At Touro University Nevada, most questions pertain to printed or digital reproduction of articles, books, and book chapters. Note that this guidance also applies to research data, maps, survey instruments, and any other materials under the protection of copyright.

Under copyright law, reproduction includes:

Photocopies, microform, videos, sound recordings, taping, or any other method of recapturing sounds.

A single copy is generally considered Fair Use under the following conditions:

  • A single chapter from a book (5% of work for in print; 10% of work for out of print).
  • A single article from a journal issue or newspaper.
  • A short story, essay, or poem from an individual work.
  • A chart, diagram, graph, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, journal, magazine, or newspaper.

Permissible When:

  • Copying meets the following tests of brevity:
    a. Poetry: A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or, from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
    b. Prose: Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.
    c. Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue. 
  • Copying meets the following tests of spontaneity:
    a. Copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and
    b. The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.
  • Copying meets the cumulative effect test as defined below: 
    a. The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
    b. Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay, or two excerpts may be copied from works by the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
    c. There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.
    d. The limitations stated in "b" and "c" above shall not apply to current news periodicals and newspapers and current news sections of other periodicals. 
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright. 

Classroom Use

Copyright law places a high value on educational uses. The Classroom Use Exemption (17 U.S.C. §110(1)) only applies in very limited situations, but where it does apply, it gives clear rights.


To qualify for this exemption, you must:

  1. be in a classroom ("or similar place devoted to instruction"),
  2. be there in person, engaged in face-to-face teaching activities, and
  3. be at a nonprofit educational institution.

If (and only if!) you meet these conditions, the exemption gives both instructors and students broad rights to perform or display any works. That means instructors can play movies and music for their students, at any length (though not from illegitimate copies!). Instructors can show students images or original artworks. Students can perform arias, read poems, and act out scenes. And 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.

Source: University of Minnesota Libraries. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

Copyright in online learning and teaching environments is governed by the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act), which was passed in 2002. Because of the different way of sharing materials in an online class, the TEACH Act applies to the transmission of materials online. There are many requirements to meet for an action to be protected by the TEACH Act, but other exemptions, like Fair Use, might apply better or more easily.

Many libraries have published TEACH Act Toolkits to guide instructors in using copyrighted materials ethically, responsibly, and legally. The original TEACH Act Toolkit, from the Louisiana State Libraries, provides TEACH background and explanations, checklists, guides, vocabulary, and commonly asked questions. Touro College librarians are also available to assist in assessing the applicability of the TEACH Act to your situation.

TEACH Act Tool