Schwerdtfeger Library News -- December 2002

Library News - January 2003

By Jean M. Phillips

Copyright Law for Distance Education:
Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization: The TEACH Act

This article is excerpted from: New Copyright Law for Distance Education: The Meaning and Importance of the TEACH Act [Prepared by Kenneth D. Crews for the American Library Association,]

On November 2, 2002, the "Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act" (the TEACH Act), was signed into law by President Bush. It became effective on that day. "The TEACH Act redefines the terms and conditions on which accredited, nonprofit educational institutions in the United States may use copyright protected materials in distance education - including on web sites and by other digital means -- without permission from the copyright owner and without payment of royalties." While the new law offers improvements over the previous version of Section 110(2), in order to enjoy its advantages, universities will need to meet the law's rigorous requirements.

In a traditional classroom setting, that is, face-to-face, educators have been able to rely on the "fair use" provision for making copies . The Copyright Law of 1976 also included a provision for "performances" and "displays" in the context of a traditional classroom. But the rules for distance education are different and much more rigorous now that materials are uploaded to web sites, transmitted anywhere in the world, are easily downloaded, altered or further transmitted by students.

The TEACH ACT is a clear signal that Congress recognizes the importance of distance education, the significance of digital media and the need to resolve copyright clashes. The new law is, nevertheless, built around a vision that distance education should occur in discrete installments, each within a confined span of time and with all elements integrated into a cohesive lecture-like package. In other words, much of the law is built around permitting uses of copyrighted works in the context of "mediated instructional activities" that are akin in many respects to the conduct of traditional classroom sessions.

The TEACH Act also focuses on the behavior of educational institutions, rather than the actions of instructors. Consequently, the institution must impose restrictions on access, develop new policy and disseminate copyright information. Educational institutions are probably at greater risk than are individuals of facing infringement liability and individual instructors will most likely turn to their institutions for guidance about the law.

The benefits of the TEACH Act include: repeal of the earlier version of Section 110(2) which generally did not apply to digital transmissions, expanded range of allowed works, expansion of receiving locations, storage of transmitted content, digitizing of analog works. But none of these benefits is available to educators unless they comply with the requirements of the law.

Please read New Copyright Law for Distance Education in its entirety to learn about requirements of the TEACH Act, duties of information technology officials, and duties of instructors.

Librarians have long been involved with copyright issues: developing policies on and interpreting fair use, following developments in copyright law, providing access to materials and alternative access when necessary. If you need help or have questions, please contact me.

Other sources for copyright information:

The Schwerdtfeger Library

Copyright Management Center (Indiana University)

Copyright Law and Graduate Research, by Kenneth Crews

Copyright Management for Scholarship