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Copyright Basics: Distance Education

Distance Education Overview

"Distance education comes in many different forms and almost invariably raises copyright questions.  A distance education program may be a formal course that is offered online, or it may be simply a site where students can obtain materials in connection with a more traditional course.  In any such event, educational content is being delivered to students.  The process of digitizing, uploading, and delivering content routinely raises copyright issues.  Much of the content will be protected by copyright law, and to the extent that the program is using someone else's copyrighted works, the instructor or institution needs to resolve copyright questions."-- Kenneth Crews Columbia COA. 

Professors usually use materials for distance education under one of the following circumstances:

1. You are using materials in the public domain not protected by copyright, or

2. You have permission to use material from the copyright owner, or

3. Your use is within fair use, or

4. Your use is within the requirements of the TEACH Act.


The “Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act,” commonly known as the “TEACH Act,” was enacted by Congress in 2002 to permit limited uses of copyrighted materials in distance education or any other “transmission” of the copyrighted content to students. The TEACH Act’s primary objective is to balance the protection of copyrighted works against the desire to use these materials for instruction in distance education.  As a result, the law will allow many uses of materials, but only with restrictions.  (From an overview by Kenneth Crews).

The LTU website has a section on the TEACH Act.

Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act.

The TEACH Act Toolkit from Louisiana State University Library.

Distance Education and the TEACH Act from the American Library Association.