The Copyright Act provides a specific exception for uses of certain of copyrighted material in a classroom setting. This provision is a bright-line rule, so if all conditions are met, there is no concern about infringing on copyright.

First, and most important, the following conditions must be met to trigger the classroom use exception:

  • It must be a performance or display of a copyrighted work;
  • The performance or display must occur in a classroom, or "similar place devoted to instruction;"
  • It must occur in face-to-face teaching activities, and
  • It must occur at a nonprofit educational institution.

Second, if the work being displayed is a motion picture or other audiovisual work, then the copy must have been lawfully made, or the person displaying it must have no reason to believe that it was not lawfully made.

If these conditions are met, then both the instructor and the students have the right to perform or display any work without the need to obtain the copyright holder’s permission. This means full movies could be shown, plays could be acted out, poems could be dramatically recited, musical compositions could be played or performed, and artworks could be displayed, to name a few examples.

It is important to note what this exception does not cover. Making and distributing copies of readings is not covered. Using material for online or distance learning is not covered, even on a course management system, such as Canvas. It does not apply to interactions that are not face-to-face, even if they are occurring through synchronous distance learning transactions. Where instruction is occurring online or through distance learning, the TEACH Act provides certain exceptions for using material, but these exceptions are more restrictive and have certain technical requirements that must be met.