U.S. Copyright Law includes limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright owners and exemptions for instructors to balance copyright protection with “fair use” for nonprofit educational purposes.
Fair use allows the limited use of legally obtained, copyrighted material without permission under certain circumstances. An ultimate determination of fair use can only be made by a judge in a court of law. Case-by-case evaluations of the "fairness" of a proposed use are guided by consideration of four factors defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.
Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption
Section 110(1) of the U.S. Copyright Act allows instructors and students to perform or display a copyrighted work without permission in a classroom or library during face-to-face teaching at a nonprofit educational institution. A legally obtained copy of a motion picture or audiovisual work must be used to qualify for this exemption.
Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act)
Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act "extends face-to-face teaching exemptions to apply to online instruction" but actual application is complex and only institutions meeting specific requirements are eligible. Only "reasonable and limited portions" of entire dramatic audiovisual works may be used. Works used must also be assigned as required viewing and access must be mediated by instructors during class sessions.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act guides the use of digital content online and restricts circumvention of copy-protection. The DMCA is reviewed every three years by the Librarian of Congress to consider proposed exceptions. Important exemptions apply to film and media instruction, educational use of media for “criticism and comment” and actions required to facilitate ADA compliance.