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Copyright & Fair Use: Copyright in Face to Face Classrooms

Information on Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom

Fair Use is simply a set of exemptions to the Copyright Act that educators frequently use but unfortunately, the difference between infringement and fair use is often impossible to define. Fair use is intended to protect spontaneous use.

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

    "The distinction between "fair use" and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

    "The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission."

Face-to-Face Classroom Exemption1
Instructors and students at an accredited nonprofit educational institution in the United States may —in compliance with certain stipulations— use, display, and/or perform in a classroom environment, any copyright-protected material or work without seeking the copyright holder permission normally required under U.S. copyright law. This section explains these stipulations and provides a general description of the most common types of materials covered by the face-to-face classroom exception under Section 110(1)  of U.S. copyright law. Please click on the following links to learn more about what is permitted:

Face-to-Face Classroom Stipulations
The stipulations governing the display and performance of copyright-protected material in the classroom are few, but important.

  • The copyright protected materials must be legally obtained.
  • The intent and purpose of their in-class use must be strictly educational.
  • Distribution must be in a location designated primarily for educational purposes.
  • Both teaching and learning must be occurring simultaneously.

As with Distance Education, it is the individual responsibility of every instructor at Canisius College, in compliance with federal law, to make good faith determinations regarding copyright-protected materials used in class and be able to argue credibly in support of those determinations.

Displays and performances falling outside the qualifying stipulations above, may very well fall within the Fair Use guidelines however, each should be carefully scrutinized for compliance before proceeding. (See Fair Use)

Most Common Materials Covered
Under the face-to-face classroom exemption, all types of the following copyright-protected materials may be displayed and/or performed in the normal classroom environment. The stipulation being that the intent is for educational (not entertainment) purposes.

  • Printed Materials
    Book chapters as well as newspaper, magazine and academic journal articles may, in most every instance be copied and handed out in class, the exception being consumables. In other words, such things as copies of whole textbooks (handed out chapter-by-chapter in successive classroom sessions), standardized workbooks and/or test materials, etc., intended for commercial distribution and individual purchase, may not under any circumstances be copied and given to students as a hand-out. 
  • Musical Reproductions
    Audio recordings of musical performances may be played in class in most every instance. An exception would be playing background "elevator" music in a classroom. Such use does not have a teaching and/or learning component and would therefore infringe upon the rights of the copyright holder. 
  • Still Images
    Visual images or "stills" as they are commonly referred to, including photos, graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, slideshows, PowerPoints, etc. may be shown in the classroom in most every instance. 
  • Audiovisual Materials
    Segments of TV shows, documentary films and movies, etc. —illustrative of or related to course content— are allowed in most every instance.


1 Adapted with permission from Colorado State University Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT). Retrieved from