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This guide provides an introduction to U.S. copyright law and associated resources related to education and scholarship.

Educational Use

Decorative ImageCopyright law includes specific allowances for educational use. However, this does not mean that any use in an educational setting is permitted. Furthermore, there are different allowances depending on whether you are teaching face-to-face or online.

Typically faculty rely heavily on the in-class exception in U.S. copyright law, found in Title 17, §110(1), which allows showing full length films, reading whole works, and sharing and discussing copyrighted works presented by either faculty or students. With online teaching, this in-class exception does not apply.

Faculty can then consider if the TEACH Act may apply to the works they plan to share in their online course. See the tab on the TEACH Act for an introduction to this exception and the provisions that need to be met for your use to qualify under this exception. If the TEACH Act does not apply, you can consider other exceptions to copyright law or seeking permission.

Instruction FAQs

If I want to use a work for educational purposes, isn't that fair use?

Possibly, but not necessarily. Fair use (§107) and uses for teaching (§110) are separate limitations on copyright, though there is some overlap. Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted works without requiring permission from the copyright holder for a number of purposes (with education typically being one of the reasons more in favor of fair use). If your use will be in the classroom and during class time, you might find that you have more freedom with §110 than with fair use.

Do I need permission to show a movie in a face-to-face class?

No, you do not need permission from the copyright holder to show a copyrighted movie in a face-to-face class. It does not extend to situations where you have reason to believe that the copy of the work was "not lawfully made," e.g. an illegally copied DVD or uploaded to YouTube. It also does not apply to courses delivered online; for online courses, licenses for films are nearly always required. Ask your librarian about films you plan to show in your online class.

Do I need permission to make copies of course readings for my students?

Whether students will be expected to read the material inside or outside of class affects which exception to copyright law is appropriate and what you are permitted to do. Before making copies, you should check whether course readings can be made available through the library. If the material you wish to distribute has already been licensed by the library, you will likely not need to worry about getting permission. Consider using print or electronic course reserves through the University Libraries, who will assist you with any necessary copyright clearances. If you are creating a course pack, contact the UNC Bookstore for more help.

Do I need permission to post materials on Canvas?

You do not need permission to post materials on Canvas if:

  1. the material is in the public domain,
  2. the owner has already given permission through an open license, such as Creative Commons,
  3. the University Libraries has a license to link to the material, or
  4. you perform a fair use evaluation and determine that fair use applies.

It is best practice to link to the material whenever possible, rather than making and posting a copy.

Image Credits:

Image by Manfred Steger from Pixabay