Copyright in the Classroom FAQ

What effect does working in the classroom have on copyright and fair use?

Conducted in an educational space limited to instructors and students, classroom use is highly favored by copyright law. Classroom use is protected by a special exception that permits performance and display without permission. Fair use also privileges classroom use and the first factor "purpose and character" almost always favors such use. Statutory damages are also limited when educators make a good faith determination about fair use in this context.

What do you mean by "classroom"?

The copyright exceptions for "classroom" or "face to face" teaching apply in a classroom or "similar place devoted to instruction" such as a lab, lecture hall, or library instruction space.

Can I show a film in class?

You can show films in class as long as you are showing a legally-acquired copy in support of your instruction.

Can I use music in class?

The same exception for "performance" of films permits music to be played in the classroom. Physical copies may be made in some circumstances as described in this set of guidelines from the Copyright Office.

What limits exist regarding handouts in class?

Creating handouts is a core activity permitted by fair use. The Copyright Office has provided some guidance for creating handouts in the classroom and although these are not legally binding they provide useful guidelines for instructors. In brief, copies must be for a single course, use only a small amount from a given work, contain notice of copyright, and the decision to copy must be made close enough to the use that it would be unreasonable to acquire permission.

Do students in class have access to the same copyright exceptions as an instructor?

Students have the same rights to perform and display works in the classroom. Their ability to distribute handouts is more limited but may still be permissible under fair use.