Online Classes and the TEACH Act

The primary distinction between face-to-face and online classes has to do with how the materials are presented to students. Showing a video in a classroom setting is generally considered a fair use of the materials as long as the video is shown for educational purposes and relates to material being taught in the class. Showing this same video to an online class, however, brings up additional issues since it is no longer just a performance of the video but also involves making and disseminating a copy of that video. The same issues can apply to materials in other formats as well.

The TEACH Act, passed in 2002, updates existing copyright law to address the issue of displaying copyrighted material in digital classroom settings. The purpose is to permit online display of material that could legally be displayed in physical classroom under the fair use provisions of copyright law. Numerous requirements and limitations are imposed by the TEACH Act, and meeting these requirements can be somewhat complex.

What is permitted under what circumstances?

The 2002 TEACH Act permits the performance or display of a complete nondramatic literary or musical work or reasonable and limited portions of any other work (dramatic and fictional works, etc.) by or in the course of a transmission if:

  • The copy of the work was legally acquired
  • The performance occurs as part of a systematic, mediated instructional activity by a governmental or nonprofit educational institution
  • The performance is related to the educational content being presented
  • Access is limited to students enrolled in the course or employees of the government institution (through password protection, etc.)
  • The institution providing the material applies technological measures that would "reasonably prevent" retaining a permanent copy of the material (e.g., "streaming" audio or video vs. downloadable files)
  • A copyright notice accompanies the material

The Act further limits digital copies being made under certain circumstances:

  • Copying cannot occur when the copies would violate existing licensing rules for the material.
  • Material originally designed as an online educational resource (e.g., academic courseware or instructional materials) cannot be reproduced under the TEACH Act.
  • No illegal circumvention of copy protection measures (e.g. "ripping" of copy-protected DVDs or removal of digital rights management protections on digital files) may be involved (see below).
  • You may not digitize analog materials (e.g., VHS, LP records, cassette tapes) if an un-copy-protected digital version is already available.

This seems to suggest that "ripping" DVDs is not specifically permitted under the TEACH Act because most commercial DVDs are copy-protected. There have been suggestions, though, that the fair use portion of the copyright act may justify this practice for material to which it applies in very specifioc cases (e.g. where short clips are needed for analysis and when use of screen-capture software like Camptasia would not produce clips of sufficient quality). "Ripping" with permission from the copyright holder would also be permissible. As with many issues surrounding fair use and multimedia materials, often there is no clear-cut answer to the question of "ripping."

For additional information

TEACH Act at the Copyright Clearance Center