(Apologies for the table layout!)

Copyright and Digital Media in Education


Basic Issues





Sources for Copyright Laws, Reports, and Guidelines

The Copyright Act of 1976 (as currently amended in Title 17 of the U.S. Code) is the current copyright law for the U.S. The Copyright Act provides educational users two kinds of limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright owners.

  1. Fair use is covered in §107.
  2. Exemptions for educational institutions are covered in §110 (now including the TEACH Act).

    This new version of §110 became law on November 2, 2002, when President Bush signed the the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act (H.R. 2215), which included the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act.

The U.S. also has international treaty obligations regarding intellectual property, including the Berne Convention, TRIPs, and WIPO treaties.

The CCUMC (Consortium of College and University Media Centers) "Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia" is a non-legislative document arrived at by consensus between government, copyright holders, and educational users. It was adopted by a House subcommittee on September 27, 1996, and is the most current agreement on fair use for new media in education.

CONFU (The Conference on Fair Use) issued its final report (PDF, 688 kb) in November 1998. It incorporated the findings of the CCUMC "Fair Use Guidelines" but did not actually adopt them. CONFU participants failed to reach a consensus. (See quick summary from University of Texas.)

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (aka the Mickey Mouse law) extended the duration of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years.

The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) was passed in October of 1998 (web format, PDF format).

The DMCA limits the liabilities of educational institutions who register as online service providers.

The DMCA required the Copyright Office to report on digital distance education.

In May of 1999, the U.S. Copyright Office published its report, "Copyright and Digital Distance Education" (PDF file).

In 2002, the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act became law. The TEACH Act revises current copyright law to expand the material that accredited institutions of learning can use in distance education. It takes into account Internet technologies newer than closed-circuit television. To take advantage of the new law, institutions of learning must take deliberate action.

Exemptions to the DMCA's restrictions have been granted in 2006, 2009, and 2012. In 2009, an exemption was expanded for media professors using clips for teaching. For more information, consult "Section 1201 Exemptions to Prohibition Against Circumvention of Technological Measures Protecting Copyrighted Works" and Peter Decherney's homepage and his FAQ about the 2009 exemption to the DMCA.

Thanks to Angela Hill for corrections to this page.

Last modified:
Jay C. Treat, Ph.D.