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Face-to-Face Instruction Exception

If you do not meet the criteria for either of the instruction exceptions, see if you can make your use fair to fit within the fair use exception.

Educators can use copyrighted materials for their face-to-face (traditional) classes, provided they meet ALL of these requirements:

  • For education purposes related to the class, not for entertainment
  • Instruction takes place face-to-face
  • Instruction happens at nonprofit college or university, in a classroom or other place devoted to instruction
  • The copyrighted material has been legally obtained, as far as the instructor can tell
  • This applies both to students and instructors showing copyrighted materials in a classroom setting

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made; 

From 17 U.S. Code §110 (1)

Virtual Instruction Exception

With the rise of virtual instruction and online classes, the instruction exception has grown complicated. The TEACH Act, enacted in 2002, addresses digital instruction, but it adds more restrictions and criteria that must be met before an instructor can use a copyrighted material for an online class. 

  • Institution is an accredited, non-profit college or university
  • Institution has a policy on use of copyrighted materials
  • Online course is part of the regular curriculum
  • Use of copyrighted materials is limited to enrolled students
  • The copyrighted materials are directly related to the educational content
  • Instructor must include a note that the materials are protected by copyright law
  • The materials will be available to students only for the time that is relevant for the class lesson
  • Display of copyrighted materials must be comparable to what would be presented in a face-to-face classroom
  • Must use technology that reasonably limits students from downloading and/or further distributing the copyrighted materials


Materials that are NOT permitted under this exception:

  • Textbooks
  • Workbooks
  • Other materials specifically marketed for educational use
  • Illegal copies of material

(2) except with respect to a work produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via Copyright Law of the United States 25 Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright §110 digital networks, or a performance or display that is given by means of a copy or phonorecord that is not lawfully made and acquired under this title, and the transmitting government body or accredited nonprofit educational institution knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made and acquired, the performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or reasonable and limited portions of any other work, or display of a work in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session, by or in the course of a transmission, if—

  (A) the performance or display is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of a governmental body or an accredited nonprofit educational institution;

  (B) the performance or display is directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content of the transmission;

  (C) the transmission is made solely for, and, to the extent technologically feasible, the reception of such transmission is limited to—
    (i) students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is made; or
    (ii) officers or employees of governmental bodies as a part of their official duties or employment; and

  (D) the transmitting body or institution—
    (i) institutes policies regarding copyright, provides informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members that accurately describe, and promote compliance with, the laws of the United States relating to copyright, and provides notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection; and
    (ii) in the case of digital transmissions—
      (I) applies technological measures that reasonably prevent—
        (aa) retention of the work in accessible form by recipients of the transmission from the transmitting body or institution for longer than the class session; and
        (bb) unauthorized further dissemination of the work in accessible form by such recipients to others; and
      (II) does not engage in conduct that could reasonably be expected to interfere with technological measures used by copyright owners to prevent such retention or unauthorized further dissemination;

From 17 U.S. Code §110 (2)