Instructional Material 5 Minute Read

The TEACH Act in More Detail

Computer and books

Updated: 5/8/2019
Original publication: 5/12/2017

Since its founding, the United States has protected the rights of creators to share and profit from their work as they see fit without the fear of others claiming ownership over their work. The Copyright Act of 1976 reinforced these protections, but it also included a provision (specifically, section 110) that allows instructors to use copyrighted works for nonprofit educational purposes in the classroom.

However, the extent of this provision became muddled as distance education and online education became more prolific. After all, there is no “classroom” in these education modalities, so can online instructors still legally share copyrighted works as part of teaching their students?

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act of 2002 sought to resolve this question. This act was meant to ensure that distance and online students at accredited, nonprofit institutions can enjoy the same benefits of exposure to copyright materials as face-to-face students, while still protecting the creators’ rights to their intellectual property.

The Requirements of the TEACH Act

The TEACH Act is not blanket permission for online instructors to use copyrighted works however they wish. For example, the TEACH Act does not permit the use of course packs or materials that publishers produce specifically for individual student purchase, because this would deprive the copyright holder of income.

Below are the major requirements instructors must follow for their use to fall under the provision of the TEACH Act, along with examples of what’s permitted and not permitted according to each requirement.

The institution must be nonprofit and accredited.

Unfortunately, for-profit universities and educational companies do not qualify for protection under the TEACH Act.

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Accredited, nonprofit educational institutions
  • Nonaccredited or for-profit educational institutions and companies

The use of the copyrighted work does not exceed what an instructor would be able to cover in a typical face-to-face classroom session.

The TEACH Act doesn’t specify how long a typical class session is, so use your best judgment. Here are some examples of what you may and may not include in a course:

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Reviewing a single newspaper article, poem, or short story (such as you might read aloud together in a face-to-face class session)
  • Posting video clips from a movie
  • Uploading an infographic
  • Streaming an entire feature-length film
  • Including hundreds of images in a single PowerPoint presentation
  • Uploading multiple chapters from a book or a lengthy journal article

The use of the copyrighted work is essential to teaching the course content and is part of systematic mediated instructional activities.

The copyrighted work must be an integral part of the class session; in other words, it must relate to the learning objectives or other pertinent course goals. The use must also be directly and materially related to the teaching content, rather than being decorative in nature.

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Showing a video that demonstrates a therapy technique in an exercise science class
  • Sharing an article about an oil spill in a module about environmental impact
  • Posting an image of a map from the 1770s in an American history course
  • Using copyrighted images as “decorations” or enhancements in a PowerPoint presentation (i.e., the images do not directly relate to course content)
  • Sharing an article about nurse management in a lesson on patient interview techniques (Although the article might be in the same general field, it’s not relevant to the current lesson.)

The use of the copyrighted work is under the instructor’s supervision.

As in a face-to-face classroom, instructors should seek to oversee the use of copyrighted works. This means posting and discussing them in the online classroom space rather than private communication channels where the instructor cannot monitor what students do with the content.

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Instructor and students posting copyrighted works appropriately within the LMS (e.g., on discussion forums)
  • Instructors overseeing assignments and group work that involve copyrighted works
  • E-mailing copyrighted works to students
  • Students using unofficial (i.e., non-university-approved) communication channels to share copyrighted works (e.g., for group work or assignments)

The copyrighted content is restricted to students currently enrolled in the class.

Only students enrolled in the course should have access to copyrighted materials, and only for the duration of the course.

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Removing access to copyrighted material once the class is finished
  • Allowing students to access the LMS only for the duration of their enrollment in the course
  • Password-protecting the LMS so only students enrolled in the course can access the material
  • Sending out copyrighted materials as “pre-work” before the course begins
  • Allowing students to access copyrighted materials after the last day of class
  • Posting materials on public social media groups

The instructor attempts to prevent students from making their own copies of the copyrighted work.

If students download or make copies of a work, instructors no longer have control or supervision over the use of the work. Thus, instructors should seek to mitigate students’ ability to download copyrighted works from the course.

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Embedding or streaming content on the LMS (rather than asking students to download such items)
  • Not allowing students to right-click or otherwise download or save works uploaded to the LMS
  • E-mailing copies of copyright material to students
  • Encouraging students to download their own copies of an article, image, or video

The instructor provides a warning notifying the students that the work is copyrighted and they should not alter or distribute it.

In addition to properly citing sources, instructors should post a disclaimer somewhere clearly visible to students telling them that they may not make additional copies or share the work with others.

Permitted Not Permitted
  • Posting an appropriate copyright disclaimer
  • Not posting an appropriate copyright disclaimer


Although this article is not an exhaustive discussion of the TEACH Act or copyright law, these examples will hopefully serve as an illustrative guide on how to handle copyrighted materials in your online classroom.

For more information on how you might be able to use copyrighted works in your online classroom, check out our article Copyright and Plagiarism: The Bare Minimum Instructors Need to Know.


American University Library. (2010). What faculty need to know about copyright for teaching. Retrieved from

Hoon, P. (2007). Using copyrighted works in your teaching FAQ: Questions faculty and teaching assistants need to ask themselves frequently. Retrieved from

Posted May 12, 2017
Author Jennifer Bell