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Copyright Basics

Provides information about U.S. copyright law, including rights of users, permission, and the public domain.

Copyright Questions?

The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for University of Michigan faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice

The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to the University of Michigan, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

If you require legal advice in your personal capacity, the lawyer referral services operated by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan may be helpful to you.

Face-to-Face Teaching

US copyright law permits teachers and students to make certain uses of copyrighted works in face-to-face teaching. As a teacher or student, you are allowed to perform or display a copyrighted work without permission in “a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction” during face-to-face teaching at a nonprofit educational institution.

If the work is a motion picture or other audiovisual work, you must use a copy of the work that was lawfully made.

This is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 110(1).

Distance Education

US copyright law gives teachers the right to use works for distance learning without permission under certain circumstances.

If you

  • are, or are acting under direction or actual supervision of, an instructor in a class session offered by an accredited nonprofit educational institution or governmental body;
  • are using the material as an integral part of a class session;
  • are using the material that is directly related to and of material assistance to your teaching content; and
  • are using a copy of the work that was prepared lawfully,

and the copyrighted work

  • was not “produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks;” and
  • will be transmitted solely to students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is made or officers or employees of governmental bodies as a part of their official duties or employment,

and your use is:

  • performing a nondramatic literary work (e.g., reading a short story aloud);
  • performing a nondramatic musical work (e.g., singing a song);
  • performing a reasonable and limited amount of any other work (e.g., playing an excerpt from a movie); or
  • displaying any work in an amount comparable to what would be used in a live classroom,

and your institution

  • institutes a copyright policy;
  • provides information about copyright to faculty, students, and relevant staff members;
  • provides notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection; and
  • if the transmission is digital, applies the required technological measures,

then US copyright law permits your use.

This provision, which is sometimes called the TEACH Act, is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 110(2).