Frequently Asked Questions: The TEACH Act


The Technology, Educational and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) passed in 2002, is a revision to the section of copyright law that deals with the performance and display of copyright protected works in distance education settings. It was intended to bring the distance education rules relating to the performance, showing and display of copyrighted works more into line with the rules for face-to-face classroom instruction. Although the TEACH Act provides some expanded opportunities for educators in distance education settings, restrictions still abound and many educators find themselves relying on the more established "fair use" rules to guide them in their decisions about when it is appropriate to use another's work.

What is the TEACH Act and how does it apply to me?

The TEACH Act is the name given to the legislation that revised the educational performance and display exemptions of the copyright law. It applies to educators involved in all forms of distance education: courses taught via interactive television with some or all of the students in a remote location; web-based "virtual classrooms" where there is no face-to-face classroom instruction; and other settings that rely on the electronic delivery of educational materials.

Does the TEACH Act apply to all educational settings?

No. The TEACH Act applies only to accredited non-profit educational institutions or governmental bodies that have policies on the use of copyrighted materials and provide information/training to their faculty, students and staff about copyright. The institutions also must have technology in place that will reasonably prevent the recipients of transmitted material from distributing the material or retaining the material after a course has concluded.

How has the TEACH Act changed copyright law?

The TEACH Act allows educators to deliver more materials electronically than was allowed under the old law. Specifically, educators now may perform, show, or display copyrighted works, or portions of copyrighted works (depending on the nature of the work) to students in remote locations, including non-dramatic literary works; non-dramatic musical works; reasonable and limited portions of other works (such as films, videos or dramatic musical works like opera, musicals and music videos); and other copyrighted works such as still images (as long as the display of such works is in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session). For example, under the TEACH Act, educators involved in distance education may perform a dramatic reading of a poem or short story for their students, just as they can with students in a face-to-face setting. They may not show an entire movie to their students (the Act only allows for the display of "reasonable and limited portions" of dramatic works) even if it is directly related to course content and even though they could show the entire movie to students in a face-to-face setting.

What other restrictions are placed on performance, showing and display?

A number of restrictions govern the electronic delivery of these works. These include the condition that the performance or display of the work be made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session. The Act also mandates that the transmission be made solely for students officially enrolled in the course and, to the extent technologically feasible, be limited to such students. For additional information on restrictions, see our Guidelines on the Performance of Copyrighted Works in the Classroom, Distance Education and Public Settings.

The TEACH Act refers to "systematic mediated instructional activities", what does that mean?

"Systematic mediated instructional activities" refers to the activities educators would engage in during the course of actual class time instruction, as opposed to activities educators might assign as part of the students' work outside of class. Under the Act, educators engaged in distance education may only perform, show or display copyrighted works if they are an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of the college or university. Put simply, educators may not electronically deliver works for student viewing outside of regular classroom time (unless, as indicated below, making the works available to the students qualifies as "fair use", such as in the case of an electronic reserve). Faculty members should always consider the market impact of making materials available electronically for students. If making the materials available electronically eliminates the need for students to have to purchase the materials, problems may arise under the TEACH Act and copyright law, generally.

What about "fair use" - does it still apply to distance education?

Educators still may rely on "fair use" when making a determination as to whether they may use copyrighted works in the electronic classroom. The numerous conditions and restrictions in the TEACH Act can make it difficult to apply. In addition, as discussed above, the Act is limited to specific types of institutions and specific educational activities. If your use does not fall within the specific limitations of the TEACH Act (or if applying the Act seems just too unwieldy), use the "fair use" rules instead. ( Click here for the ??Fair Use FAQs??.)