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Copyright Reference Guide For Educators

Reproduction of Copyrighted Content

Below are guidelines to help educators interpret the fair use provisions relating to classroom copying for educational use. These guidelines are not part of the copyright legislation nor are they legally binding. However, they may be helpful in determining Congress's intent in interpreting fair use.

Under the copyright law, reproduction can take either of two forms: 

  • The making of copies: by photocopying, making microform reproductions, videotaping, or any other method of duplicating visually-perceptible material and 

  • The making of phonorecords: by duplicating sound recordings, taping off the air, or any other method of recapturing sounds.

The guidelines do not cover online teaching and academic course packs. To use copyrighted material in academic course packs, permission must be obtained from the copyright holder or a licensing agent.

Reproduction of Copyrighted Content

Print Copying

Permitted Single Copying for Instructors

Permitted Multiple Copying for Classroom Use

A single copy of the following can be made for the instructor’s research or class preparation: 

  • A chapter from a book 

  • An article from a periodical or newspaper

  • A short story, short essay, or short poem

  • A chart, diagram, graphic, drawing, cartoon, or picture

Multiple copies for classroom use are permitted provided: 

  • The work being copied is tied to the teacher’s instructional purpose

  • The copying meets the standards of brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect as defined below

  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright

  • Only one copy may be distributed for each student and that copy must become the student's property

  • Each item copied must be for classroom use or discussion

  • Brevity: Either a complete poem of less than 250 words, or an excerpt from a longer poem of not more than 250 words, complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10 percent of the work, whichever is less.
  • Spontaneity: The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and the inspiration and decision to use the work. The moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness is so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.
  • Cumulative effect: Copying of the material is for only one course in the department in which the copies are made. No more than one short poem, article, story, essay, or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work of periodical volume during one class term. There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.

Copying not permitted

  • Multiple copies from different works shall not be used to substitute for the purchase of books, publishers' reprints, or periodicals.

  • Copies should not be made from works intended to be "consumable" in the course of study or teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, test booklets, answer sheets, and such consumable material.

  • Copies should not be made from the same work and used from semester to semester, or for different courses at the same or different institutions. NO CHARGE shall be made to the student beyond the actual cost of the photocopying.

Multimedia Reproductions

Limited portions of copyrighted films, audio and video recordings, and photographs may be reproduced or otherwise incorporated when creating multimedia projects to be used as teaching tools in support of curriculum-based instructional activities.

Permissible amounts for each type of media that can be included in a multimedia project:

  • Up to 10 percent of the total or 3 minutes, whichever is less for movies, film clips, excerpts from television shows, etc.

  • Up to 10 percent of the work but no more than 30 seconds of the music or lyrics from an individual musical work 

  • No more than 5 images from one artist or photographer, and no more than 10% or 15, whichever is less, from a collection

  • Up to 10 percent or 2,500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, from a copyright database or data table


  • Instructors may make no more than two copies (including the original) of the instructional multimedia project containing materials used under fair use. An additional copy can be made only for preservation purposes.

  • The fair use of copyrighted materials in multimedia projects is permitted for only two years after the first instructional use of the project in class. Thereafter, the multimedia project may be used only after obtaining permission from the copyright holder.

Media Conversions

Copyright Law does not allow the conversion of media from one format to another (e.g. VHS to DVD) without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. Such reproduction of copyrighted material does not qualify as fair use. Lawful reproduction of media content is allowed for archival purposes under specific conditions only as delineated in Section 108 of the copyright law.

Off-air Recording of Broadcast Television Programming

Off-air recording, retention, and use of television broadcast programs for educational purposes is permissible under the following conditions:
  • Off-air recording is permitted only of  “broadcast programs" that are transmitted by television stations for reception by the general public without charge.

  • The off-air recordings must be shown within the first 10 consecutive days after the date of recording in a classroom setting or similar environment. 

  • Off-air recordings need not be used in their entirety, but the recorded programs may not be altered from their original content. 

  • The off-air recordings may be retained for a period not to exceed 45 consecutive calendar days after the date of recording, after which the recording must be erased or destroyed immediately.

  • After the first 10 consecutive days, off-air recordings may be used up to the end of the 45 calendar day retention period only for teacher evaluation purposes, i.e., to determine whether or not to include the broadcast program in the teaching curriculum.

  • No broadcast program may be recorded off-air more than once at the request of the same teacher, regardless of the number of times the program may be broadcast.

  • A limited number of copies may be reproduced from each off-air recording to meet the legitimate needs of teachers under these guidelines. 

  • All copies of off-air recordings must include the copyright notice on the broadcast program as recorded.

Copying of Computer Software

Generally, the fair use exemption does not apply to computer software for two reasons. In order to function as expected, the computer software needs to be copied in its entirety. Unauthorized copying of entire computer software has a direct impact on the potential market value of the work. Moreover, computer software is usually licensed for use on only one computer. A single copy can be made of a computer software for backup purposes only. Without the express written consent of the software licensor, software copying and distribution is strictly prohibited. Software is generally subject to license terms (private or open source) that govern the rights and restrictions on its use.