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Professional Resources: Copyright & Fair Use for Teachers

Collected Professional Resources for Faculty and Staff


Overview of Copyright for Teachers

Teachers and Students at schools are still subject to Copyright law.  Thankfully there are two very important features built in to copyright law that provide exemptions for certain educational uses.

The first are educational exemptions in US Code Title 17, Section 110 (1) and 110 (2)

Section 110(1) provides that, as long as the copyrighted material is legally acquired and the material is used for face-to-face teaching activities,for curricular educational purposes, and within the four walls of a classroom in a non-profit educational setting, it is not an infringement of copyright.

Example: showing a copyrighted movie in its entirety is not infringement if  1).you show it  in class 2.) to only the students in that class and 3). use it as part of an assignment.  Watching a rented, purchased, or borrowed* DVD or VHS of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope in an English class and analyzing it in terms of Joseph Campbells "Hero's Journey" model, is fine.

BUT, simply watching a movie in class, even if it is topically relevant, may not be protected: "but they ['teaching activities"] do not include performances or displays, whatever their cultural value or intellectual appeal, that are given for the recreation or entertainment of any part of their audience" (H. Rept. 94-1476).


Section 110(2)  (Revised in 2002 as the TEACH ("Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization" Act (part of H.R. 2215)) covers exceptions specifically for distance-education. There are more complex restrictions and provisions that must be met in order for use of copyrighted material to be non-infringing under the TEACH Act.

The second is Fair Use, found in US Code Title 17, section 107

Fair use is applicable to anyone, not just teachers, and provides limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright holders.  It sets forth 4 factors that courts are to consider when copyright infringement cases are brought before them. The factors are on a sliding scale, and not all 4 factors must be met in order for a finding of Fair Use.  See this excellent page from Stanford Libraries for more information.

  1. Purpose and Character of your use :  educational= more fair, commercial=less fair
  2. Nature of the Copyrighted Work:    more factual = more fair, more creative=less fair; unpublished = less fair
  3. Amount and Substantiality of the work used:  only what is needed = more fair; "heart of the work" = less fair
  4. Effect on Potential Market:  use would not deprive copyright holder of income = more fair; 
  5. (Transformative Nature of the Use) [not an officially codified factor, but has court precedent since 1994, Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose Music]: 


Note: there are NOT hard  and fast rules written into law about what constitutes fair use   (i.e.  you could use 10% or  :30 seconds etc. and still be infringing copyright, you could use a whole song or 15% of a work and still be FAIR USE).  There are, however, some general guidelines, set forth by various stakeholders, that are good benchmarks

More about the TEACH Act

Copyright Education Sites

Sources for Public Domain and Creative Commons Images

Helpful sites for finding images that are free and legal to use in most circumstances.

NOTE: Many of these sites are supported by commercial image licensing sites (like iStock), so make sure you know what images are free, and which are ads.

Free Audio Sources

This page does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.