Understanding Copyright

What the law says

The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Neither the rental nor the purchase of a movie carries with it the right to show the movie publicly outside the home, unless the site where the movie is used is properly licensed for public exhibition. Ownership of the movie and the right to use it publicly are two separate issues. The copyright holder retains exclusive public performance rights.

This legal copyright compliance requirement applies to schools, public libraries, daycare facilities, parks, recreation departments, summer camps, churches, private clubs, prisons, lodges, businesses, etc.

This legal requirement applies:

  • Regardless of how the movies are obtained (rented, purchased in a store or purchased online in digital format)
  • Whether or not an admission fee is charged
  • Whether the facility or organization is commercial or non-profit


In exchange for unprecedented access to copyright-protected material for distance education, the TEACH Act requires that the academic institution meet specific requirements for copyright compliance and education. For the full list of requirements, refer to the TEACH Act. In order for the use of copyrighted materials in distance education to qualify for the TEACH Act exemptions, the following criteria must be met:

  • The institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution.
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities.
  • The use must be limited to a specific number of students enrolled in a specific class.
  • The use must either be for ‘live’ or asynchronous class sessions.
  • The use must not include the transmission of textbook materials, materials “typically purchased or acquired by students” or works developed specifically for online uses.
  • The institution must implement some technological measures to ensure compliance with these policies, beyond merely assigning a password. Ensuring compliance through technological means may include user and location authentication through Internet Protocol (IP) checking, content timeouts, print-disabling, cut and paste disabling, etc.

What the TEACH Act Does Not Allow
The new exemptions under the TEACH Act specifically do not extend to:

  • Electronic reserves, coursepacks (electronic or paper) or
    interlibrary loan (ILL).
  • Commercial document delivery.
  • Textbooks or other digital content provided under license from the author, publisher, aggregator or other entity.
  • Conversion of materials from analog to digital formats, except when the converted material is used solely for authorized transmissions and when a digital version of a work is unavailable or protected by
    technological measures.

It is also important to note that the TEACH Act does not supersede fair use or existing digital license agreements. Ultimately, it is up to each academic institution to decide whether to take advantage of the new copyright exemptions under the TEACH Act. This decision should consider both the extent of the institution’s distance education programs and its ability to meet the education, compliance and technological requirements of the TEACH Act.

Information on the TEACH Act provided by Copyright Clearance Center. Used with permission.


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