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Copyright Reference Guide For Educators

Exceptions & Limitations to Copyright

There are several exceptions and limitations to the exclusive rights provided under copyright law that provide for lawful use of copyrighted works and are relevant to educators.  

  • Displays and performances in face-to-face teaching (Classroom Use Exemption) — Allows for the performance and display of copyrighted materials in the course of face-to-face teaching at nonprofit educational institutions.
  • Displays and performances in distance education (The TEACH Act) — Allows for the display and performance of certain types of copyrighted works in the course of distance education. Use of The TEACH Act is subject to many conditions, including establishing institutional policies and implementing technological controls.
  • Fair use — Permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission. Examples of fair use include criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, and research.
  • Library copying — Allows libraries and archives to make copies of works for preservation, research and study, and interlibrary loan.
  • First sale doctrine — Limitation on the copyright holder's distribution right that states that once a copy of a work has been lawfully sold, the owner of the copy is free to resell it, rent it, loan it, or give it away. It allows for library lending, video rentals, used book and CD sales, and the ability to give copyrighted materials as gifts.
  • Exception for public displays — Allows the owner of a lawfully made copy of a work to display it to the public at the place where the work is located. For example: display of art in museums, book displays in bookstores and libraries, etc.
  • Computer Software — Owners of computer software can make backup copies and modify the software so that it works on a specific computer platform.
  • Architectural Works — Anyone may take and use photographs of publicly visible buildings without infringing the copyright of the architectural design.
  • Special formats for the blind or other people with disabilities — Organizations that serve the disabled can reproduce or distribute copies of previously published nondramatic literary works in specialized formats for use by the visually impaired or other persons with disabilities.