Understanding the TEACH Act

The TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002) was signed into law in November, 2002.

This law expanded instructor's ability to use works that are protected by copyright (most works other than US government publications) in digital teaching materials without first obtaining permission from the copyright owner. This covers materials prepared for at-home use by students enrolled courses taught in traditional classroom settings as well as distance learning courses.

The TEACH Act updated the copyright law to remove impediments to the use of new technologies in teaching. Until these statutory changes, electronic transmissions of copyright protected material fell outside the education exemptions found in the copyright law because those exemptions were explicitly limited to face-to-face classroom settings.

Under the TEACH Act, certain copyrighted materials may be used in electronic formats without having to obtain permission from the copyright holder. In order to qualify to use copyrighted materials under the TEACH Act, several conditions must be satisfied:

Faculty Responsibilities:

  1. The material must be provided at the direction of or under the supervision of an instructor and must be an integral part of the course curriculum (i.e., not merely entertainment or unrelated background material).
  2. The amount of material provided must be comparable to that typically displayed in a live classroom session. For certain works, the display of the entire work could be consistent with displays typically made in a live classroom setting (e.g., short poems or essays, or photographic images). Distribution of entire textbooks, course-packs or supplemental readings would not be authorized under the TEACH Act.
  3. You must provide notice to students that materials distributed in the course may be subject to copyright protection.

Technological Requirements:

Technological measures must be employed so that:

  1. To the extent technologically feasible, the transmission of material is limited to students enrolled in the course (through password-restricted access or other similar measures);
  2. The material is available to students for a limited duration no longer than the "class session" i.e., the period during which a student is logged on to the server. Students may not be permitted to retain a permanent copy of the material or to further disseminate it. The legislative history identifies certain streaming technologies and digital rights management systems as examples of technological measures that would satisfy this requirement.

Institutional Requirements:

The TEACH Act requires that universities:

  1. Institute policies regarding copyright. Copyright infringement currently violates Cornell's Campus Code of Conduct and the Code of Academic Integrity;
  2. Provide information to faculty, staff, and students that accurately describes and promotes compliance with copyright law.


The TEACH Act does not authorize:

  1. The use of works specifically created for use as distance learning products;
  2. The use of works that you know or have reason to believe are pirated i.e. not lawfully made. This could include many copyright-protected films and much music downloaded from the Internet;
  3. The conversion of print or other analog versions of works into digital formats unless:
    no digital version of the work is available; or
    the digital version employs technological protection measures that prevent its use;
    and then, conversion is only permitted with respect to the portion of the work authorized to be performed or displayed under the TEACH Act's size restrictions.


Under the TEACH Act you may now, under certain limited conditions (described above), use short works or portions of larger works in distributed learning situations without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

If you cannot operate within these constraints, you may still be able to provide electronic access to copyrighted materials under the long-standing principle of "fair use." The TEACH Act explicitly provides: "Nothing in this act is intended to limit or otherwise to alter the scope of the fair use doctrine." The provision of downloadable course materials and supplementary reading materials will continue to be subject to the fair use doctrine exclusively.

Information contained on this website is educational in nature and is not to be construed as legal advice.

If you seek legal advice, please contact the Office of General Counsel.

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