Copyright in the Classroom

Librarians in the Open Knowledge Center can help you feel confident using materials to enhance your teaching.

The Classroom Exception

The Classroom Exception permits you to use copyrighted works without permission as part of classroom instruction at NC State University. Specifically, it permits you or your students to perform or display a work in the classroom or a similar space devoted to instruction such as a lab, or library room — as long as the work is related to your instruction. In brief, if your use is a performance or display, in the classroom, and part of your instruction you don't need to ask permission.

Fair Use

Fair use is an exception that permits use when the benefit to the public outweighs the harm done to the rightsholder. The decision whether a use is "fair" or not is based on four factors: the purpose and character of your use; the nature of the work you are using; the amount and substantiality you are using; and the effect of your use on the market for the original.

In other words, you need to ask what you are doing, what you are using, how much you are using, and whether your use is hurting the value of the work. Fair use is about looking at all four factors to strike a balance that permits use for the public good that does not do too much harm to the creator of the original work. Read more about fair use.

Public Domain

Works in the public domain are works for which copyright has expired or never existed in the first place. These works can be used by anyone for any purpose without copyright permission from anyone because no one owns exclusive rights in these works. Find out if a work is in the public domain.


Generally speaking, under NC State's Copyright Policy faculty instructors retain copyright in educational materials that they create as part of their classroom instruction, even when using generally available tools for classroom capture like Panopto. You can read more about the specific legal issues when using these tools including copyright and privacy issues in this FAQ.


Librarians from the Open Knowledge Center (OKC) are available for one-on-one consultations or to come to your class to discuss copyright with your students. 

Contact the OKC