Examples of Fair Use Copyright Laws in the Classroom

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Examples of Fair Use Copyright Laws in the Classroom

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

When a teacher wants to use a copyrighted work in some way, they must balance fair use principles to determine whether their use qualifies as a fair use exemption. They must consider the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, how many times they plan on using that work, and the effect of their use on the copyrighted work.

Teacher speaking to students in a classroom

For example, if a teacher wants to use one line from a copyrighted poem and then have their students create their own poems inspired by that line, that is likely to be considered fair use. On the other hand, if the teacher duplicates the copyrighted poem to sell at a school fundraiser, this use is not likely to be considered fair use.

Fair Use Exemption

U.S. copyright laws encourage creativity and innovation by protecting artistic works such as photographs, paintings, books, songs, essays, and poems. A copyright provides its owner the exclusive right to make and distribute copies, sell, or perform works based on their protected item. However, there are some exceptions to this exclusive right—including the fair use exemption—that allow others to use the copyrighted work without violating copyright laws.

The fair use exemption allows a person to use copyrighted material without permission from its owner. Thus, if your use qualifies as a fair use, then you would be protected from any claim of copyright infringement.

A fair use of a copyright is any use done for a limited and transformative process, such as to comment on, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. For example, if a person is writing a book review, fair use principles allow them to reproduce some of the copyrighted material in their work to achieve their ultimate goal.

Fair Use in the Classroom

There are some general guidelines teachers can use so that they are not in violation of copyright laws. Generally, the more of a protected work the teacher uses, the less likely that use is going to be considered fair.

If a teacher puts copyrighted material online rather than giving a limited number of hard copies to students, the use is unlikely to be considered fair because others have access to the work online. Generally, small sections of a copyrighted work that are used sparingly when a teacher does not have enough time to get permission from the owner are considered fair use.

Copyright Violations vs. Public Domain

When material is copyrighted, any use that is not considered fair use is violating copyright laws. For example, if a teacher reprints an entire copyrighted textbook because her budget does not allow her to buy a copy for each student, the textbook owner can bring an infringement lawsuit against her.

However, some works are considered public domain and can be used freely by teachers without violating copyright laws. Teachers do not need to seek permission to use public domain materials.

As a teacher, you want to provide your class with educational materials without risking the legal implications of a copyright infringement. Familiarizing yourself with the exemption rules and legal terms can help guide you to choosing texts that do not require permission for use.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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