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Copyright: Finding & re-using Images & Media: Copyright & Online Learning

What is the TEACH Act?

Signed by President Bush in 2002, the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH Act) addresses the special digital uses of copyright materials in online learning.  The TEACH Act amends the US Copyright Act, and under certain circumstances, allows faculty at accredited non-profit educational institutions to use portions of copyrighted works online without the consent of the copyright owner.

To utilize the TEACH Act, ALL of the criteria outlined in the Act must apply. 

For a list of criteria and an excellent resource visit the J. Murrey Atkins Library (UNC) site at:


Portion Restrictions

The TEACH Act amended the Copyright Act in 2002 to give distance educators the right to perform and/or display copyrighted works in online settings, under certain conditions.  Works may be digitized (copied) for use in online programs to the extent authorized by the ‘fair use’ clause of the Copyright Act.   As a result, the TEACH Act authorizes only a small subset of the use of electronic resources that a faculty member may wish to make.  Its exemption from the obligation to obtain permission covers only in class performances and displays – but not, for example, digital delivery of supplemental reading, viewing or listening materials for assignment / out of class purposes.   For those resources, we must continue to rely on the fair use criteria listed below.

The key concept to keep in mind is that the fair use doctrine is sensitive to market economies.  If there is an established market for purchasing or licensing the work, then the scope of fair use narrows.  If permission to use the work is impossible to get, the scope of fair use expands to permit reasonable and circumscribed use of the materials for local and remote students.

Under Section 110(2) as amended, online instructors can make the kinds of material available for the duration of the class segment (typically a week or two) that the instructor would have shown, played or quoted during a bricks and mortars class lecture.  The TEACH Act does not authorize open-ended access to or use of copied materials outside the immediate class segment context, unless permission is granted.   Bottom line, for pedagogical purposes, instructors may transmit ‘reasonable and limited portions’ of a work in ‘amounts comparable to typical face-to-face displays’.  Alternately, consider providing a direct URL link to the work in question. Section 107 of H.R. 2223

I. Single Copy for Teacher Use

A single copy may be made of any of the following by or for a teacher at his or her individual request for his or her scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class:

a A chapter from a book
b An article from a periodical or newspaper 
c A short story, short essay or short poem, whether or not from a collective work
d A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper

II. Multiple Copies for Classroom Use

Multiple copies (not to exceed in any event more than one copy per pupil in a course) may be made by or for the teacher giving the course for classroom use or discussion; provided that (a) The copying meets the tests of brevity and spontaneity as defined below and, (b) Meets the cumulative effect test as defined below and, (c) Each copy includes a notice of copyright.

Definitions Brevity

i Poetry: (a) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or, (b) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.

ii Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or (b) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, which- ever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words. [Each of the numerical limits stated in “i” and “ii” above may be expanded to permit the completion of an unfin- ished line of a poem or of an unfinished prose paragraph.]

iii Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue.

iv “Special” works: Certain works in poetry, prose or in “poetic prose” which often combine language with illustrations and which are intended sometimes for children and at other times for a more general audience fall short of 2,500 words in their entirety. Paragraph “ii” above notwith- standing such “special works” may not be reproduced in their entirety; however, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such special work and containing not more than ten percent of the words found in the text thereof, may be reproduced.