In the Online Class

The guidelines below define the standards for educational fair use when using copyrighted materials in the online classroom. The law that governs the use of copyrighted materials in the online classroom is called the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act, or TEACH Act. Signed into law in 2002, the TEACH Act was created in response to the rise in online instruction at institutions of higher education. While the law is intended to allow an online instructor to use material in the same ways it can be used in the face-to-face classroom, there is specific language that applies to the online environment.

Below is a summary of the key points of the TEACH Act that apply to classroom instruction. If you need a more detailed discussion of this legislation, see the links at the bottom of the page.

  • The materials displayed are intended for the use of the students in that particular class as part of a mediated instructional activity; only students enrolled in the class may have access to the material.
  • Materials may not be accessible to students beyond the end of the class term.
  • Technology must be used that reasonably limits the students’ ability to further distribute the materials or retain them beyond the end of the semester.
  • A faculty member may retain a copy of an item if it will be used in subsequent semesters, but that copy must be stored on a secure server and made available only in consideration of the other requirements of the Act.
  • No copies may be made by an instructor beyond the copy used to make the content available to the students.
  • The TEACH Act allows the display of:
    • Non-dramatic literary and musical works in their entirety
    • Reasonable and limited portions of dramatic literary, musical, or audiovisual works
    • Displays of other works, such as images, in amounts typically used in the face-to-face classroom
  • The TEACH Act does not allow the display of:
    • Materials specifically marketed for classroom use for digital distance education
    • Illegally made or obtained copies of material
    • Textbooks, coursepacks, electronic reserves, or other materials typically used in the face-to-face classroom
  • The TEACH Act allows for the digitization and streaming of "reasonable and limited" portions of VHS and DVD audio-visual works in the online classroom. Be aware, however, that any license agreement that CMU has with a title's vendor takes precedence over the TEACH Act, and that some of our licenses do permit the display of an entire work within the online class.
  • Analog (i.e. non-digital) material may be digitized a) only in an amount permitted under fair use limitations and b) only if there is no digital copy of the work available. NOTE: This language applies to audiovisual works, such as VHS tapes and DVDs.
  • If you wish to digitize an entire DVD and make it available to your class, you must first obtain permission to do so from the copyright holder.
  • The materials transmitted in the online classroom may not replace a textbook, coursepack, or electronic reserves.
  • The TEACH Act does not permit the digital transmission of entire works (such as a journal article or book chapter). This type of dissemination is best handled by placing the material on electronic reserve. For information on e-reserves, click here.
  • Be aware that, in some instances, the doctrine of fair use may allow you to use material beyond the limitations set by the TEACH Act.

Please remember that the guidelines above only define the limits of acceptable use. If you wish to use material beyond the scope mentioned above you may do so, but you will first need to obtain permission from the copyright holder. If you need assistance obtaining permission, contact the Course Reserves and Copyright Services office.

For More Information

TEACH Act Toolkit

Fair Use and the TEACH Act

Text of the TEACH Act

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

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