Copyright & Instruction

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Using Materials in the Classroom

Audiovisual materials, websites, outside books, and firsthand sources are all examples of materials you might want to use in the classroom to liven up your lessons. It is important to keep in mind however, that most of these items are protected under copyright laws. As such, professors need to have solid background knowledge of copyright. If you need to review the fundamentals of copyright law, be sure to visit our copyright basics page before reading further.

Section 110 of copyright law is an exception that addresses classroom use of copyrighted material.  This section makes it legal to use materials for teaching if:

  • The class is face-to-face and located in a classroom or similar educational setting (see the TEACH Act for distance education settings)
  • The school is a non-profit institution
  • The school legally owns a copy of the material being shared
  • The information is necessary to the course


The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act works to put the use of copyrighted materials used for distance or online education within the same realm as materials used in a physical classroom. It allows professors to transmit copyrighted information to students if:

  • The school is an accredited, non-profit educational institution
  • The information is necessary to the course
  • The school legally owns a copy of the material being transmitted
  • The materials must only be accessible by students enrolled in the course
  • Audiovisual works cannot be transmitted in its entirety – only reasonable clips may be used

Due to these limitations, there may be extra steps you need to take before sharing information with your students if you teach a distance-education course online. For a more complete look at the requirements of the TEACH act, visit the American Library Association or look through the a TEACH Act checklist produced by Professor Kenneth Crews at Columbia University.

Course Reserves

Course reserves are online collections of documents and articles that professors create for their students.  Many academic librarians have determined that the creation of course reserves falls under fair use. Often, a copy or subscription to the material is already owned. These materials are used for instructional purposes and made available only to students of the university. For a full explanation of why librarians consider course reserves fair use, feel free to view the University of Illinois’ course reserves policies.

If you are interested in establishing course reserves for your class, visit UIUC’s placing materials on reserve website.


Coursepacks are similar to course reserves in that they are collections of materials put together for a class.  Unlike course reserves, which are electronic, coursepacks are a physical collection of articles, stories, book chapters, or other text resources that the professor has selected and had bound for his or her students.  In the past, coursepacks were assumed to be fair use, much like course reserves.  However, in 1991, a publisher sued Kinko’s for producing a professor’s coursepacks and the courts ruled that it was a copyright violation.  Now, you must have permission in order to include a work in a coursepack.

University Policies for Faculty

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The university has a variety of resources for faculty dealing with copyright and fair use:

Resources for Your Students

While teaching, you may find that your students need information or have questions about copyright. Below are some resources designed particularly for students that may be helpful: