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Copyright and Fair Use: Classroom Use Exemption

A primer on the U.S. Copyright Act and Fair Use.

Face-to-Face Teaching

The Classroom Use Exemption (17 U.S.C. §110(1)) only applies in limited situations, but when applied, it gives clear rights.

  • In-class viewing is a public performance, but it's permitted under the Classroom Use Exemption

To qualify for this exemption, you must:

  • Be in a classroom ("or similar place devoted to instruction").

  • Be there in person, engaged in face-to-face teaching activities.

  • Be at a nonprofit educational institution.

  • Be using a lawfully made copy

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17 U.S.C. Section 110 provides that the following is not a violation of copyright: "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made . . .."

Note: This exception to copyright does not state that making a copy or reproduction of a work is permissible for teaching purposes (in order to make a copy of a work for teaching purposes, please see fair use).

Essentially, what this means is that you can show a lawfully obtained movie or image or project a page from a book for teaching purposes in a live, face-to-face classroom with your enrolled students. No specific type of work is excluded from this exemption, so, the House Report accompanying this section provides that you are "free to perform or display anything in class as long as the other conditions of the clause are met. They could read aloud from copyrighted text material, act out a drama, play or sing a musical work, perform a motion picture or filmstrip, or display text or pictorial material to the class by means of a projector."  Anything you perform or display must be from a lawfully made/obtained copy.

Regardless, classroom instructors who do not meet this criteria (such as online educators) or professors who wish to make a copy of a chapter of a book to distribute to the class, should still consider fair use if this particular Section 110 exception does not apply. Fair use may still apply to permit the use and that determination should still be made on a case-by-case basis.

(obtained from

The Teach Act

The Classroom Use Exemption does not apply online and it doesn't apply to interactions that are not in-person.   The Teach Act does for  Distance Education what the Classroom Use Exemption does for in person  – but it is much more difficult an exception to use due to many requirements of the law.  The Teach Act is not used at UIC.

Copyright Questions?

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This guide provides a basic primer about copyright and fair use for instruction.  If you have specific questions, please e-mail


These pages were created to provide basic copyright information and are not a substitute for legal advice.