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Fair Use and Copyright: The Teach Act

The Teach Act

As explained in the Fair Use section, an addendum was added to the Copyright Act in 2002 that pertains to fair use of copyrighted materials in online classrooms . This section, called The Teach Act, affords online instructors and students similar fair use rights as those in a physical classroom while protecting copyrighted material from unauthorized access and dissemination. 

Why was a separate act necessary to address fair use in online classrooms? Don't online classes provide the same educational output as physical classes?

When an instructor, say, plays a video for a class, the video starts and ends within the realm of the classroom. While it's possible (though unlikely) that a student could film the video using his or her phone or camera and then illegally distribute the copy, the quality would be degraded and the content clearly pirated. Similarly, when an instructor distributes photocopied printed material, the assumption is that the material was a) legally obtained; b) will be discarded when it's no longer being used, as photocopies degrade and non-bound papers are seldom preserved by students.

When an instructor posts the same video or printed material online, however, there is a much higher risk that the material can be forwarded to individuals without authorized access (in short, anyone not enrolled in the class using the materials) and without the same degradation to which physical materials are typically subject. Therefore, while the content may be the same or similar in physical and online learning environments, the manner of delivery is different and must be distinctly managed.

How should copyrighted materials be shared in Canvas or other content management systems?

In general, you can embed, link to, or force download of materials in Canvas. Provided fair use guidelines are followed, copying and pasting or embedding a small portion of copyrighted materials is permissible.

However, when resources are electronically available, a better practice would be to link to the material, thereby removing any copyright liability (provided the instructor knows or reasonably believes the material was legally obtained or posted by the host site). The Library strongly encourages the use of electronic resources available through the Library's subscriptions, as the legal status has already been cleared and our licensing agreements are generally explicit on proper usage of the materials.

Even with articles or film clips obtained through library subscriptions, however, providing a link for students to access the materials through their own library accounts is good policy for several reasons:

  • in case the rights to the original content changes (removal by the author or publisher or a change in our subscription, for example);
  • so students can use the citation, folders, saving, and other tools made available in various databases;
  • so that students using screen-readers or other customized software are ensured access to the materials;
  • and to remove the burden of copyright protection from the institution should a user distribute materials to unauthorized individuals.

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Best Practices in Canvas

In general:

  • Use Canvas to make all copyrighted digital materials available to your students;
  • Restrict course access only to students registered for the course that semester, and remove access at the end of the semester;
  • Follow Fair Use guidelines, i.e., excerpts of copyright works that are "in support of curriculum-based instructional activity." When in doubt, use the ALA's interactive Fair Use Evaluator;
  • Attribute copyright text and images to the original creator and copyright holder (if different), whenever possible;
  • Link to outside websites rather than embedding or excerpting from them;

Articles and book chapters:

  • Limit articles to one per journal issue and book chapters to one per book;
  • Link to articles or ebooks available in the Library's digital resources;
  • If you wish to use an article or a book chapter that is not available online through the Library, the Library can help you obtain a rights-cleared copy to post on your course shell.

Video and audio:

  • Embed only relevant clips from the portion of the longer work;
  • Link to longer audiovisual works and any works not obtained from the Library's online resources.


  • Use no more than 10% of the images in a published work, with a maximum of 15 from any single publication;
  • Some images, such as company logos, are protected by trademark rather than copyright; attribute these images to the trademark holder.

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Online services often provide permalinks to articles, ebooks, and book chapters. A permalink URL is typically provided near the citation/print/email icons in an article or ebook display and will ensure that the links you provide will not be broken as the database is modified over time.

As a faculty what can I do with permalinks?
Faculty can create reading or viewing lists in Canvas as part of assignments for classes. You can easily use permalinks to embed links to journal articles, ebooks, ebook chapters, online videos, and other online materials that are contained in the Library's online research services.

Why would I use a permalink rather than just uploading the article into Canvas or elsewhere?
Embedding permalinks to articles or ebooks that are part of the Library's online services is the best and easiest practice when creating reading lists in Canvas. Embedding links saves you the time to take the extra steps of downloading and uploading an article or a chapter.

From fair use and rights management points of view, you can safely presume that an article, ebook, or video in one of the Library's services already has the needed permissions for posting in a course management system.

In addition, permalinks are also used to help track usage statistics. Usage statistics help the library understand who's using what, so we can purchase the right resources for everyone's use.

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