As schools quickly transition to remote learning models in order to educate students during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand copyright implications and how to avoid claims of copyright infringement.

Copyright law applies to many materials frequently used in classrooms and online lessons, including but not limited to books, music, artwork, plays, and movies. While teachers need not secure permission to use these materials if an exception such as “fair use” applies, determinations are fact-specific and not always easy to make in advance.

The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act specifically addresses the use of copyrighted material in an online educational format and establishes conditions under which the transmission of such material will not be considered copyright infringement. The law sets out many technical requirements regarding the online educational use of all copyrighted works. Importantly, any work being performed or displayed must be:

Legal Requirement What does that mean?
Lawfully made and acquired Teachers should secure a legitimate copy, not just any copy from the Internet
Limited to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session Nondramatic literary or musical work (such as books, poems or songs) can be shared in their entirety, but teachers need to use “reasonable and limited” portions of other work, such as plays or movies, only to the extent that they would do so in a live class session
At the direction of, or under the supervision of, the instructor as an integral part of a class session Teachers should use the material as part of the lesson, not as a supplemental or recommended resource
Directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content The material should be an important part of the lesson and not used simply to entertain
Transmitted for and limited to students enrolled in the class to the extent “technologically feasible” Online sharing should be limited to the teachers’ students, to the extent feasible

In addition, schools sponsoring online learning must:

Apply technological measures that reasonably prevent recipients from retaining the works beyond the class session and further distributing them Schools should prevent students from downloading materials to a hard drive or thumb drive after the session ends
Not use this exception for distributing materials that the school would normally purchase for students Schools should not use online sharing to supply materials they would otherwise buy for their students
Have policies, provide information about, and give notice to students that the materials used may be protected by copyright There should be a disclaimer that states the materials may be subject to copyright protection

As an alternative to following the TEACH Act requirements, educators can ensure that their use of copyrighted material is lawful by seeking a license or permission to use the work in their online lessons.  Given the unprecedented closure of schools across the country and the transition to online teaching and learning, many publishers have adapted their policies to allow educators to use their materials as they teach in a virtual format. A list of publishers who have granted permission and the guidelines and time frames they have established can be found on the School Library Journal’s website here.

In addition, the Library of Congress holds a special collection of books published before 1924 that are no longer under copyright. The collection can be found here.

Please continue to monitor for updates concerning COVID-19. If you have specific questions about remote learning and avoiding copyright infringement, please contact Gwen J. Zittoun at or Dori Pagé Antonetti at