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TEP's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use Issues

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© Copyright:

Copyright is a complex and highly contentious area of law. In general copyright law has been set up to protect the commercial reproduction rights of authors and artists. The law has recently gone through dramatic changes in an attempt to keep up with digital technologies and international economics. As such, copyright is in a phase of complex political debate focused on whether or not levels of access and protection are still in balance. What does this mean for instructors who are making available various materials (audio and video clips, online articles, etc.) online for educational study? Instructors do have rights under the law and below are some general (and non-legal) resources related to the educational use of works of art.

For more information specifically addressing the University of Oregon see:

For more information about copyright law in general and updates to the law:


TEACH ACT (Distance Education):

"The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act), passed in 2002, was intended to update copyright law (specifically, Section 110(2)) pertaining to transmissions of performances and displays of copyrighted materials. Although the act never uses the phrase "distance education" or "online courses", this is the part of the copyright act that addresses it through use of the word "transmission".

Thus, any time a performance (music, movies, etc.) or display (image, text, etc.) is transmitted (cable television, over the web), the TEACH exception might be an option for our faculty. However, if the shoe doesn't fit, other options may be available, like fair use." - North Carolina State University, TEACH Act Toolkit, Retreived October 27, 2008.

Checklist for Compliance with the TEACH Act


Fair Use:

Educational use of copyrighted material can sometimes be justified through the "fair use" clause in federal copyright law. The goal of this page is to briefly define the elements of "fair use" and to lead you to more substantial sources for information about how copyright law applies to teaching with the Internet.

Factors of Fair Use-If you use a piece of copyrighted material in your teaching, four factors will determine whether or not your use of that material qualifies as "fair use." Note that ALL FOUR of these factors must be evaluated for fair use to apply.
  1. The nature of the use
    Is the reproduction or the distribution for education or for commercial gain?
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
    Fiction, high-level analysis, works of art, and musical composition are considered the most creative and therefore receive the most protection from infringement.   Compilations and derivative works are usually not protected by copyright at all (except possibly in their format or user interface).
  3. The quantity of the work used
    If you use 3% of the total substance of the work or less, you are probably safely within fair use. If you use more than 10%, you are in uncertain territory.
  4. The potential impact on the copyright holder's market
    If your use of some material could materially reduce the creator's ability to profit from it, this factor would point toward your use not being "fair."

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors. The U.S. Copyright Office - Fair Use (PDF logoPDF File) provides more information on each of the four Fair Use criteria.

Some other sources for information about the guidelines: