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The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002, codified in Section 110 of the Copyright Act, was an attempt to clear up questions related to distance and online learning. In very broad terms, the TEACH Act provides that an instructor may make use of recorded materials in online and distance education settings in ways analogous to how those same materials might be presented in the face-to-face classroom setting under the existing fair use rules, and such use will not be considered an infringement. However, as often happens, the TEACH Act introduces as many complex issues as it clears up.

Several elements must be in place for the online use of materials not to be considered an infringement:

  • The display of the materials is made by or under the direction of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of systematic mediated instructional activities. In other words, the materials are integrated into the content of a for-credit class. The display may be synchronous or asynchronous.
  • Access to the materials is limited to students enrolled in the class, and the institution must take reasonable measures to prevent unauthorized access, reproduction, retention, or re-transmission of the materials.
  • Students must be informed (through the use of an introductory screen or other means) that course content may include copyrighted materials which may not be reproduced, retained, or retransmitted.

Expressly excluded from the TEACH Act’s protections:

  • Transmitting portions of textbooks, course packs, or other materials which are typically purchased by students.
  • Interfering with or defeating technological measures used by copyright owners to prevent unauthorized retention or dissemination. In other words, defeating copy protection is not allowed.
  • Transmitting unlawfully obtained materials (i.e., materials obtained through the circumvention of digital copy protections).
TEACH Act Checklist

Use the TEACH Act Checklist to aid in determining whether a particular use of electronic materials is deemed to be a copyright infringement.

Last updated: 11/11/2020