Using Copyrighted Materials for Teaching

Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson we will learn about fair use, the principle governing use of copyrighted materials in educational settings, and the specifics of using print materials, music, online materials, and multimedia in the classroom.

What is Fair Use?

If you purchase a copy of a book or a movie, or even download and print a great article from the Internet using your own printer, ink, and paper, you can use it for classroom teaching, right? Well, the answer to that question is, 'It's complicated.'

Fair Use is the term for guidelines giving educators the right to use parts of copyrighted works for educational purposes. While Fair Use is not part of the federal Copyright Act governing other uses of copyrighted materials, it is commonly accepted by the court system and by the national Copyright Office.

But what exactly constitutes an educational purpose? Under Fair Use, accepted educational purposes are curriculum-based teaching to students in non-profit schools, non-commercial study contributing to a field of knowledge, and non-commercial conference and workshop presentations. There are specific guidelines for each particular type of copyrighted material.

Fair Use Guidelines for Print Materials

Print materials are basically any material printed on paper, including books, magazines and newspapers. Portions of print materials can be used for educational purposes if they are selected 'spontaneously'. In other words, you must pick the material to use in class as you are planning a lesson and not well in advance. In addition, the materials cannot replace a class textbook and no more than one copy per student can be made. The amount of each work a teacher can use is as follows:

  • a full poem of less than 250 words
  • a 250 word excerpt of a poem longer than 250 words
  • an article, story, or essay that is less than 2,500 words
  • a 2,500 word excerpt or 10% of a work longer than 2,500 words, whichever amount is smaller
  • 1 chart, graph, diagram or picture per book or magazine

The exception to these restrictions is newspaper or magazine articles related to a current event. For instance, if an earthquake occurred and you wanted to use a series of articles about its effects over a few weeks of instruction, you could use them in their entirety, even though they are copyrighted.

Fair Use Guidelines for Music

Copyrighted music also falls under the Fair Use. Guidelines for using music for educational purposes is as follows:

  • excerpts of sheet music can be used as long as they don't comprise a 'performable unit' of music
  • up to 10% of a song's lyrics may be copied and used
  • 1 copy per student of recorded music can be provided for that student to use for practice purposes
  • 1 copy per recorded work of music can be used for teaching in the classroom

Fair Use Guidelines for Multi-Media

On to multi-media materials, which consist of movies, television programs, and other videos. Multi-media is one of the more restricted areas of Fair Use. Only 3 minutes or 10% of a multi-media work, whichever is less, can be used for educational purposes. And the work needs to be 'lawfully acquired', meaning it needs to be purchased or gifted to the teacher or school.

The exception to this guideline is any work that is specifically labeled as being allowed to be used in its entirety for classroom instruction. For example, many distributors will sell copies of movies that indicate they are 'for classroom use only'. These can be used in instruction without restriction.

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