Copyright Exceptions for Education

The Copyright Act includes numerous exceptions that permit you to use a work without seeking permission. This section focuses on four specific exceptions that are often useful for instructors:

The Classroom Exception

The Classroom Exception permits you to use copyrighted works without permission as part of classroom instruction at NCSU. 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.

The TEACH Act 

The TEACH Act provide a similar exception for instruction in the online environment. Like the Classroom Exception, TEACH permits you to use materials without permission when you are in the equivalent of a classroom - generally on a web site that is limited to those enrolled in your class with password protection. You can also only perform or display works in a comparable amount to what you would make available in the classroom. Finally, for dramatic audiovisual works like movies you must use "limited portions" of the work. In brief, TEACH works a lot like the Classroom Exception but you must retain the classroom character through limited access and comparable quantities and dramatic AV works must be used in "limited portions."

There are many excellent tools to help you apply TEACH such as the TEACH Act Toolkit and the TEACH Act Flowchart. You can also contact the Center for assistance.

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:

  1. the purpose and character of your use
  2. the nature of the work your are using
  3. the amount and substantiality you are using
  4. 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 not a checklist where all four factors must be on one side nor is it a vote where the majority of factors rules. 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.

Fair use can be confusing and even frustrating since it rarely gives you clear, definitive "yes/no" answers. Fortunately there are many good tools to help you decide if your use is fair. Columbia's Fair Use Checklist can walk you through the process and document your good faith analysis. The ALA's Fair Use Evaluator can also be useful. And of course you can always contact the Center for a private consultation on fair use or to schedule an instruction session for your class, department, or research group.

Read more about fair use in the Fair Use FAQ

The Library Exception

The Library Exception is a set of rules regarding library copying and sharing. It gives qualified libraries flexibility in their decisions about sharing works owned by the library as well as archiving and preserving works. The Library Exception is fairly complex, particularly for non-librarians. The Section 108 Spinner can help you with decisions about archiving and library use. For further explanation about The Library Exception and answers to specific questions feel free to contact the Center.