United States Copyright law both limits and allows for the use of copyrighted materials.
Article 1, Section 8, of the United States Constitution states:
"The Congress shall have Power… To promote the progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and inventors the elusive Right to their respective Writing and Discoveries.". The intent of U.S. copyright law is to protect authors of “original works of authorship”.
The Fair Use Doctrine was added to Section 107 of the U. S. Copyright law in 1976. This law limits the rights of copyright holders in that it allows for limited use of copyrighted material for several purposes including educational, scholarship, and research purposes. Section 107 sets out the following four factors to be considered in determining fair use of copyrighted work. If you wish, you may read the entire text of the U. S. Copyright law at the Copyright Office's Web site.
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. The intent of this law was to update copyright law to meet the challenges of the digital age. This law protects copyright holders from online theft. If you have ever downloaded copyrighted files of any type without paying for, or seeking permission to use them, you have violated this law.
Of special interest to colleges and universities is the section of this law prohibiting the circumvention of technological protection measures. In other words, the use or sale of technology designed to circumvent copy protection (anti-piracy measures) on digital media is illegal. The law does allow a few special exclusions for circumventing copy protection, but those complicated exemptions refer to research on digital content that is copy protected and do not pertain to classroom use of digitized material. For an overview of the DMCA read the UCLA Online Institute for Cyberspace Law and Policy’s The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, (TEACH Act) of 2002 allows digital presentation of copyrighted material in the online classroom – within limits. The TEACH act revises Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act. This law targets non-profit educational institutions. Its purpose is to relieve the limitations of previous copyright law that restricted the presentation of copyrighted materials in digital format – via the Internet.
The TEACH Act, like all copyright law, offers broad guidelines which allow and limit the use of copyrighted materials. This law addresses in-class (online class) performances and displays, but does not address electronic reserves. The TEACH Act does not override and/or eliminate the considerations of Fair Use; it is used in conjunction with Fair Use guidelines. Before using content online make sure it meets the guidelines for fair use, and then refer to the Teach Act for information on limits.
Copyrighted materials that meet the guidelines for fair use may be presented online (digital format) within the limits of the TEACH Act and Fair Use. A few of these limits include:
As stated previously – these are just a few of the limits. Please review the information below to learn about the specifics of the TEACH Act.
Review the American Library Association's Teach Act information. ViewPenn State's video and Website links on the Teach Act and Copyright law.
Georgia Harper, from the University of Texas, offers detailed information on how to obtain copyright at
A sample permission letter is located at
*Information on this page is meant as a reference only, it is not legal opinion. Compliance with, and interpretation of, copyright law is the responsibility of the individual using the copyrighted material.