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"Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." - Mark Twain

Copyright In the Classroom

This section examines the application of copyright law in both the face-to face and online classroom and includes discussions of fair use, creating instructional materials,and the use of film and video in a classroom. In addition, it includes an acknowledgement about MOOC production.

Fair Use in Education and Research

Fair use offers an extraordinarily important opportunity for faculty to make reasonable and limited uses of copyrighted materials. Clipping, cutting, pasting, uploading, posting, and many other activities that are common at the university may be copyright infringements or may be within fair use. When do you need to think about fair use? Some example situations:

  • Uploading materials to Blackboard, Canvas  or another server.
  • Clipping and copying materials into any teaching tool.
  • Posting materials for distance learning.
  • Developing databases of copyrighted works for research.
  • Sharing articles and other materials with colleagues.
  • Developing digital libraries.
  • Placing copies on library reserves.

A fair use analysis is necessary to determine if your use is a fair one. A full discussion of the four factors under fair use and the use of the Fair Use Checklist is found under the Fair Use Tab of this site.

A Note on Massive Open Online Courses

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) require careful attention. The reproduction and distribution of material within the global and open nature of a MOOC poses unique copyright challenges. For this reason, faculty are encouraged strongly to seek out the guidance and advice of the Library and Educational Technology on this campus.

Distance Learning

The TEACH Act, section 110(2) of the U.S. CopyrightAct is a copyright exemption that covers teaching conducted through digital transmission; it addresses performance and display of copyrighted materials used in teaching. Even if your class has on ground, face to face sessions, anything you transmit through a course delivery system, such as Blackboard or Canvas, would fall under the TEACH Act, unless you choose to use Fair Use as an alternative exemption. The TEACH Act is not a wild card exemption to do anything you want; it comes with limitations.

Teachers have more privileges in face-to-face teaching situations for the use of copyrighted materials than in online instruction. The TEACH Act attempts to bring the two environments closer together, but the playing fields are still not level. The TEACH Act does not cover the use of textual materials such as readings.

Provisions of the Act

The Act allows teachers to show the full performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or display the following types of materials:

  • a sound recording of a poem
  • a sound recording of a piece of literature
  • a recorded symphony still images, photographs (these are considered "displays")
  • still images from subscription databases if allowed by license
  • text if it is something that would normally be "displayed" in a face to face class; not if it is something only to be read by students

Teachers may only display "reasonable and limited portions" of dramatic works. Use only the portions that are necessary to make a point. (Teachers in face to face classrooms may use the following works in their entirety):

  • dramatic works
  • audio/visual works
  • musicals
  • operas
  • commercial films
  • music videos

Teachers may not transmit or display instructional materials, without permission or licensing, which students are commonly expected to purchase such as:

  • textbooks
  • coursepacks
  • workbooks
  • digital educational work (made for the purpose of performance or display for use in mediated instruction)

Works "produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks" should not be copied, but purchased and used as intended by the publisher.

Obligations of the Instructor

  • The performance or display is made by or under the supervision of an instructor
  • The performance or display is directly related and integral to the class content, not ancillary like Reserves
  • The work is part of systematic mediated instructional activities
  • The "transmission is made solely for and limited to students officially enrolled in the course"
  • Materials that are used for performance or display must be lawfully made and acquired
  • Instructor must use reasonable controls to prevent copying and retention of the work, those that would "discourage most users." (streaming is suggested for video; thumbnails, watermarks and disabling right click copy function can be used to protect images.)
  • A digital copy may be made from an analog copy when no digital version is available or when the digital version is technologically protected.
  • Work must carry a warning notice to students. Examples:

(2nd example from NCSU)

Obligations of the Institution

  • Must be an accredited, non-profit, educational institution or governmental body
  • The institution "institutes policies regarding copyright, provides informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members that accurately describe, and promote compliance with, the laws of the United States relating to copyright, and provides notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection."
  • The institution applies technological measures that reasonably prevent: 
    • retention of the work in accessible form by recipients of the transmission from the transmitting body or institution for longer than the class session; and
    • unauthorized further dissemination of the work in accessible form by such recipients to others
  • The institution "does not engage in conduct that could reasonably be expected to interfere with technological measures used by copyright owners to prevent such retention or unauthorized further dissemination."

See the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations  100.010.

Making Instructional Materials Available to Students

Using a course website or a university-supported Course Management System (CMS), such as Blackboard or Canvas, to make instructional materials available to students can raise many copyright issues. These systems can be used to provide a wide range of materials, from articles and book chapters to sound recordings and visual images. However, such materials may be posted and shared only in a manner consistent with copyright law, which gives legal protection to nearly all text, images, audiovisual recordings, and other materials, whether available on the Internet or in any other medium.

Instructional materials may be posted to a CMS or a course website under any of the following circumstances, as detailed more fully on this page.

  • The faculty member is the owner of the copyright in the material, or
  • The material is made available by linking rather than copying, or
  • The copyright owner of the material grants permission or
  • The material is in the public domain, or
  • The use is within fair use under the law or another statutory exception.

Showing Film and Other Media in the Course of Teaching

Showing or “performing” a motion picture at the university can be important for teaching and other university activities, but the performance must be made in compliance with copyright law. One of the rights of the copyright owner in the film is the right to make a “public performance” of it. Therefore, the performance of a copyrighted film must be made only with permission from the copyright owner or consistent with one of the exceptions or limitations in the copyright law.

As outlined below, the law does provide many opportunities for showing films at the university, but one usually must begin with the following assumptions:

  • Most audiovisual works used at the university are in fact protected by copyright. Copyright protection lasts for many decades, and usually only some of the earliest motion pictures are in the public domain.
  • Many performances of copyrighted works are “public” and therefore may be a violation of the copyright owner’s rights. A performance can be “public” if it is at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered. As a result, a “public performance” can take place in a classroom, a dormitory lounge, or a campus theater or auditorium.

Nevertheless, copyright law includes several possibilities for properly showing copyrighted audiovisual works. (Note: This discussion is only about the “performance” of the work. Making a copy of all or part of the work must be addressed separately.)

Allowed: Performing a work privately, and not publicly

A performance may not be “public” if the place is closed to the public, and the audience is not a “substantial” number of persons. Therefore:

  • The smaller the viewing group, the less likely it will be a public performance.
  • Gathering a large group of friends or using a common room in a residence hall can make the performance “public."
  • Open invitations and announcements to the public can make a performance “public.”

Allowed: Performing a work in the course of teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution

Copyright law includes a code section specifically permitting performances of works by nonprofit educational institutions. A performance may fit within the exception if:

The performance is in a classroom or similar location for instruction (Note: this exception applies only in the face-to-face setting and not to a broadcast, transmission, or online display).

The performance is part of a teaching activity, although it does not have to be part of a regular course. Therefore, an instructor may host a related discussion forum or arrange for a student or instructor to lead an educational program related to the film.

These rules are specified in Section 110(1) of the U.S. Copyright Act, but a separate statute provides for performing a work through any “transmission” to students, such as through distance education or from a university server. That statute, known as the “TEACH Act” and codified at Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act, may be used only by complying with numerous conditions and requirements. Consult the Library for additional information.

Allowed: Performing a work with permission from the copyright owner

The creator of the work is typically the copyright owner or other rightsholder. In the case of motion pictures, movie studios usually hold rights in the works they create or distribute.

  • You may secure permission directly from the rightsholder. For more information about permissions, please visit the Permissions Tab in this guide.
  • Some suppliers of audiovisual works offer a “public performance license” for a fee, or they sell the work to universities with a performance license. If the library has purchased the work, consult with the librarians about whether it included performance rights.
  • One-time licenses may be available through companies such as Swank Motion Pictures.
  • Some motion pictures may be copyrighted, but licensed for broad uses through Creative Commons.

Allowed: Performing a work that is in the public domain

Copyright protection does not last forever, and when the copyright has expired, the work may be used without copyright restriction. For example, any work published in the U.S. before 1923 is in the public domain and may be used freely.

For more information about copyright duration and the public domain, please see the Public Domain Tab.

The Internet Archive and other organizations facilitate finding and using many films and other works that are in the public domain.

Additional sources of films that are in the public domain include: Festival Films; Desert Island Films; Reel Media International; BuyOut Footage; and OpenFlix.

Allowed: Performing a work created by the U.S. government

Works created by the federal government are not protected by copyright and are in the public domain. However, works commissioned by the federal government may have copyright protection. Also, works produced by state, local, or foreign governments may have copyright protection. Federal government works in the public domain could include many military films and NASA space exploration footage.

Allowed: Performing a work within the limits of fair use

The law of fair use provides an exception to the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. For more information concerning the law of fair use, please see Fair Use under the Copyright Basics Tab. In most situations, fair use requires careful application and judgment calls; consequently, the other opportunities outlined above are usually preferable to undertaking an analysis of fair use.

What You Can Do in a Classroom

  • Link directly to the material. Linking does not violate copyright because it does not involve the creation of additional copies. See Using Material in Library Databases for information on which databases allow linking, e-reserves or coursepacks.
  • Use citations to point students to materials.
  • Place an entire book (not a photocopy) on library course reserve. The library will also place on course reserve a book you own. See course reserves for additional information.
  • Use or play CDs, DVDs, video tape, our audio tape in your class, if it is a legally obtained copy (such as a library-owned copy) -- and the use is for educational purposes. See Media in the Classroom for additional information.
    • For an in-person class, you can show clips or an entire work.
    • For an online class, only clips are allowed.
  • Use materials that are not protected by copyright such as: works published by the federal government and works in the public domain.
  • Use materials that are from open archives or open access journals or available under a Creative Commons or similar license.

What You Cannot Do in a Classroom

  • You cannot copy an entire copyrighted book, CD, DVD, audio tape or video tape.
  • You cannot copy any portion of an encrypted DVD (almost all commercially produced DVDs are encrypted).
  • Copies of copyrighted or licensed materials cannot be publicly accessible online -- they must be placed behind a password protected system such as Blackboard or Canvas.
  • Students cannot retain access to online copyrighted materials after the class is over.
  • For library-licensed materials, copies cannot be sold to students for more than the price of making the copy.

Other Tutorials for the Classroom

These videos are available using Creative Commons or similar licensing and may be shown in the classroom.

These videos are from Films on Demand, a service licensed to C. L. Wilson Library. The content is appropriate for both faculty and students. These may be shown (streamed) in classrooms. These selections are only available to Missouri S&T users.

These selections are Web based tutorials