This guide provides a basic overview of copyright law, fair use, copyright for instructors, and other copyright related resources.

Exceptions for Instructors

U.S. Copyright law provides specific exceptions to copyright for educational environments. This means that as an instructor there are several ways that you can use copyrighted material in your classroom without first having to request permission. Different copyright exceptions are applied to online versus in-person classrooms. Before relying on these exceptions, it is always recommended to evaluate your unique situation by using resources such as the Framework for Copyright Analysis.  

Using Copies in the Classroom

The Fair Use Doctrine, or section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, permits the reproduction of copyrighted material in specific circumstances such as criticism, scholarship, and teaching. It even states that “multiple copies for classroom use” is included under the provision of fair use. This does not mean that fair use allows unlimited copying for teaching purposes. Instructors must still determine whether the use meets the four factors of fair use. For specific classroom copying guidelines please see Circular 21 from the US Copyright Office and Colorado State University Copyright Guidelines.  

Best Practices

  • Don't copy a significant amount from one particular work. 
  • Use works shared with an open use or Creative Commons license. 
  • Cite the work and if available provide a copyright notice.
  • Provide a link to material rather than uploading a PDF copy in digital environments.
  • Use the minimum amount necessary to accomplish your teaching goals. You should be able to explain how the selected works relate to course outcomes or objectives.
  • Use library resources. The library negotiates licenses to online content that allow for classroom and reserves use. For more information about, course reserves see the library’s Course Reserves FAQ.  
  • Don’t copy consumables which include material such as tests, workbooks sheets, etc.
  • If you’re still uncertain, request permission. The Division of University Communications is available to assist faculty and staff who are producing course materials that contain copyrighted materials. For more information please see their Copyright Information, Course Packets & FastPrint page.

Adapted from "Copyright and Fair Use" by Michael Boock, CC-BY-NC.

Classroom Use Exemption

Section 110 (1) of the Copyright Act provides an exemption for the use of non-textual works in the classroom. According to this exemption, performances and displays of copyrighted works may be allowed without requesting permission as long as the teaching is taking place in-person at a nonprofit educational institution, with enrolled students, and is pedagogically related to course learning objectives. If these conditions are met, then instructors are allowed to play lawfully made DVDs and CDs for students for any length of time. It also allows instructors to show students images and original artwork, as well as permits students to read poetry aloud and perform scenes from plays, and any other copyrighted works.  

This exemption does not apply to making or distributing copies or to online instruction. If the use falls outside of the classroom experience, then a Fair Use Analysis should be applied. 

Online/Distance Education Exemption

The Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, or TEACH Act, (Title 17, Section 110(2)) enables instructors at an accredited, nonprofit educational institution to transmit performances and displays of copyrighted works in a distance education environment. Distance education environments include courses that are taught solely online, as well as when segments of face-to-face courses are taught online in course management systems such as Canvas. It also covers digitally transmitting class materials to students. The underlying goal of TEACH is to make distance education environments more comparable to traditional face-to-face classrooms. However, unlike face-to-face classrooms, there are a number of conditions that must be met first. 

To assist you in making a proper determination, try using the Checklist from North Carolina State University's TEACH Act Tool Kit.

Can I show a video in class?

Before showing a film or video in class it is important to consider the classroom environment you will be delivering the content in. For face-to-face instruction, section 110(1) of the Copyright Act provides an exemption that allows for the performance or display of an entire video or film in a classroom, as long as certain conditions are met (see Classroom Use Exemption section). In an online/distance learning classroom, the TEACH Act section 110(2), authorizes the performance or display of a reasonable and limited portion of films. However, it is important to remember that there is a restriction placed on quantity, and showing an entire film will rarely constitute a reasonable and limited portion. You may also rely on fair use for showing a film in an online class, but similarly, showing an entire film online also may not constitute fair use. 

Can I use my personal Netflix or other streaming services in the classroom?

The short answer to this question is probably not. Streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu typically have membership agreements that prohibit users from streaming subscribed content in a classroom or public setting. By agreeing to the terms of your membership, you enter into a contract, that supersedes any applicable exceptions under copyright law. Therefore, if the membership agreement with Netflix prohibits users from showing content in a classroom, then you are bound by the terms of that agreement even if the face-to-face teaching exception would otherwise allow it.

What other options are available to show videos?

Use library licensed content. CSU libraries provide a variety of streaming videos to choose from. A list of these databases and collections can be found in our Streaming Media Guide.

Link to material

Provide a link to images or videos instead of making an electronic copy. In general, linking to materials is not considered a violation of copyright. However, best practices still require you to cite the original source and provide proper attribution to the owner.

Additional Resources for Educators

Your Librarian

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Khaleedah Thomas

Informational Purposes Only

The materials and information on this guide are intended for informational purposes only. CSU Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Please consult the University's Office of the General Counsel or your own attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.


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