I’m a Teacher, so copyright laws don’t apply – Right??

Question for lawyerAnswer

“Face to Face” exception

Well – sometimes.  While it is true that there are exceptions to the rules regarding use of copyright protected works by teachers , they are limited.

Fair Use Exceptions
Face to Face Teaching

When setting up the copyright laws, Congress created the “Face to Face” exception which allowed use of protected works for “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.” (17 U.S. Code § 110, Emphasis Added).  Notably, this exception is loaded with qualifying language that requires the exception to be interpreted pretty narrowly.

Fair Use Guidelines

However, teachers have another option.  Like the general public, the rules governing Fair Use  can be applied to teaching activities – in fact teaching is specifically called out by the statute as a limitation on the exclusive rights of copyright owners.  17 U.S. Code § 107 .   The challenge, of course, is that Fair Use does not provide any black and white rules – only factors to be weighed.  Fortunately, following the enactment of the current Copyright Act, many interested parties got together to create additional guidelines to help provide some examples of common uses of copyright protected work and to provide a roadmap for educators.  While these guidelines are not part of the copyright statute, they do help provide a framework that teachers can use to navigate Fair Use.  The list of guidelines is extensive and has been put into a circular distributed by the Copyright office at https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ21.pdf.

Additional Resources