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Copyright & Fair Use for Faculty

Copyright and fair use for education is complicated. Try our interactive tools to find out if the work you want to use is protected under copyright, fair use or educational exceptions.

The TEACH Act & Duties of Instructors

Form From the ALA Issues & Advocacy Copyright: Distance Education and the TEACH Act

Faculty members are best positioned to optimize academic freedom and to determine course content. Indeed, the TEACH Act does establish numerous detailed limits on the choice of content for distance education. Again, the issue here is the selection of content from among copyrighted works that an instructor is seeking to use without permission from the copyright owner.

  1. Works explicitly allowed. Previous law permitted displays of any type of work, but allowed performances of only "nondramatic literary works" and "nondramatic musical works." Many dramatic works were excluded from distance education, as were performances of audiovisual materials and sound recordings. The law was problematic at best. The TEACH Act expands upon existing law in several important ways. The new law now explicitly permits:
    1. Performances of nondramatic literary works;
    2. Performances of nondramatic musical works;
    3. Performances of any other work, including dramatic works and audiovisual works, but only in "reasonable and limited portions"; and
    4. Displays of any work "in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session."
  1. Works explicitly excluded. A few categories of works are specifically left outside the range of permitted materials under the TEACH Act. The following materials may not be used:
    1. Works that are marketed "primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks"; and
    2. Performances or displays given by means of copies "not lawfully made and acquired" under the U.S. Copyright Act, if the educational institution "knew or had reason to believe" that they were not lawfully made and acquired.
    3. The first of these limitations is clearly intended to protect the market for commercially available educational materials. For example, specific materials are available through an online database, or marketed in a format that may be delivered for educational purposes through "digital" systems, the TEACH Act generally steers users to those sources, rather than allowing educators to digitize the upload their own copies.
  2. Instructor oversight. The statute mandates the instructor's participation in the planning and conduct of the distance education program and the educational experience as transmitted. An instructor seeking to use materials under the protection of the new statute must adhere to the following requirements:
    1. The performance or display "is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor";
    2. The materials are transmitted "as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic, mediated instructional activities" of the educational institution; and
    3. The copyrighted materials are "directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content of the transmission."
    4. The requirements share a common objective: to assure that the instructor is ultimately in charge of the uses of copyrighted works and that the materials serve educational pursuits and are not for entertainment or any other purpose. A narrow reading of these requirements may also raise questions about the use of copyrighted works in distance-education programs aimed at community service or continuing education. While that reading of the statute might be rational, it would also be a serious hindrance on the social mission of educational institutions.
  3. Mediated instructional activities. In perhaps the most convoluted language of the bill, the statute directs that performances and displays, involving a "digital transmission," must be in the context of "mediated instructional activities." This language means that the uses of materials in the program must be "an integral part of the class experience, controlled by or under the actual supervision of the instructor and analogous to the type of performance or display that would take place in a live classroom setting." In the same provision, the statute specifies that "mediated instructional activities" do not encompass uses of textbooks and other materials "which are typically purchased or acquired by the students." The point of this language is to prevent an instructor from including, in a digital transmission, copies of materials that are specifically marketed for and meant to be used by students outside of the classroom in the traditional teaching model. For example, the law is attempting to prevent an instructor from scanning and uploading chapters from a textbook in lieu of having the students purchase that material for their own use. The provision is clearly intended to protect the market for materials designed to serve the educational marketplace. Not entirely clear is the treatment of other materials that might ordinarily constitute handouts in class or reserves in the library. However, the general provision allowing displays of materials in a quantity similar to that which would be displayed in the live classroom setting ("mediated instructional activity") would suggest that occasional, brief handouts-perhaps including entire short works-may be permitted in distance education, while reserves and other outside reading may not be proper materials to scan and display under the auspices of the new law.
  4. Converting analog materials to digital formats. Troublesome to many copyright owners was the prospect that their analog materials would be converted to digital formats, and hence made susceptible to easy downloading and dissemination. Some copyright owners have held steadfast against permitting digitization in order to control uses of their copyrighted materials. The TEACH Act includes a prohibition against the conversion of materials from analog into digital formats, except under the following circumstances:
    1. The amount that may be converted is limited to the amount of appropriate works that may be performed or displayed, pursuant to the revised Section 110(2); and
    2. A digital version of the work is not "available to the institution," or a digital version is available, but it is secured behind technological protection measures that prevent its availability for performing or displaying in the distance-education program consistent with Section 110(2).
    3. These requirements generally mean that educators must take two steps before digitizing an analog work. First, they need to confirm that the exact material converted to digital format is within the scope of materials and "portion" limitations permitted under the new law. Second, educators need to check for digital versions of the work available from alternative sources and assess the implications of access restrictions, if any.