Copyright Essentials for Educators


"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

U. S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 8

This teaching guide explains the three exemptions provided educators under U.S. copyright law—Title 17 of the United States Code. These three exemptions spell out the conditions under which copyright-protected materials may be used in U.S. accredited nonprofit educational institutions without seeking the express consent of the owner.

Specifically, the exemptions are as follows:

  • Classroom Exemption
  • Distance Exemption (TEACH Act)
  • Fair Use Exemption

In the event neither the Classroom Teaching nor Distance Education exemptions apply—both of which should be looked to first—the broader, more lenient Fair Use exemption might.

Implications to Note:

"Broad and lenient" does not imply or suggest that Fair Use is a catch-all piece of legislation authorizing the use of copyright-protected materials when all else fails.

Each display or performance must be considered individually—and a good faith determination made—regarding under which exemption the use of copyright-protected material is authorized. Once made, it is essential that the instructor be able to support his or her determination with a credible argument.

Understanding and properly applying these exemptions is an individual responsibility; each instructor at Colorado State University is legally bound to comply.