The Intricacies of Copyright Compliance


Showing students a movie isn’t as simple as just pressing play. The Federal Copyright Act specifies how all copyrighted materials like movies can be used, even inside and outside of your classrooms. Here are our answers to some of the most common questions about copyright compliance.


Why should I obey copyright law?

Violating copyright law through unauthorized use of a movie:

  • Prevents those who worked hard on a film from receiving their just compensation.
  • Essentially steals motivation to create from authors, computer programmers, playwrights, musicians, inventors, movie producers and more.

A public performance licensing fee includes money paid to the entire cast and crew who worked on the film from start to finish. If these men and women do not receive this hard-earned revenue through sources like licensing fees, they may no longer invest their time, research and development costs to create new movies.


Who does copyright law apply to?
This law applies to everyone, regardless of:

  • Whether admission is charged.
  • Whether the institution is commercial or nonprofit.
  • Whether a federal, state or local agency is involved.
  • What year the movie was produced.

This means colleges, universities, public schools, public libraries, day care facilities, parks, recreation departments, summer camps, churches, private clubs, prisons, lodges, businesses and more all must properly license movies to show them publicly.


What about movies for educational purposes? Do I need a license to show these?
In exchange for unprecedented access to copyright-protected material for distance education, the TEACH Act requires that the academic institution meet specific requirements for copyright compliance and education.

In order for the use of copyrighted materials in distance education to qualify for the TEACH Act exemptions, the following criteria must be met:

  • The institution must be an accredited, nonprofit educational institution.
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities.
  • The use must be limited to a specific number of students enrolled in a specific class.
  • The use must either be for ‘live’ or asynchronous class sessions.
  • The use must not include the transmission of textbook materials, materials “typically purchased or acquired by students” or works developed specifically for online uses.
  • The institution must implement some technological measures to ensure compliance with these policies, beyond merely assigning a password. Ensuring compliance through technological means may include user and location authentication through Internet Protocol (IP) checking, content timeouts, print-disabling, cut and paste disabling, etc.


What does the TEACH Act prohibit?
The new exemptions under the TEACH Act specifically do not extend to:

  • Electronic reserves, coursepacks (electronic or paper) or interlibrary loan (ILL).
  • Commercial document delivery.
  • Textbooks or other digital content provided under license from the author, publisher, aggregator or other entity.
  • Conversion of materials from analog to digital formats, except when the converted material is used solely for authorized transmissions and when a digital version of a work is unavailable or protected by technological measures.

It is also important to note that the TEACH Act does not supersede fair use or existing digital license agreements.

Ultimately, it is up to each academic institution to decide whether to take advantage of the new copyright exemptions under the TEACH Act. This decision should consider both the extent of the institution’s distance education programs and its ability to meet the education, compliance and technological requirements of the TEACH Act.