Classroom Uses

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This page explains how copyright law works if you're using or displaying copyrighted materials in course instruction or in-class assignments. If you are uploading materials to bCourses, please see our page on Use in bCourses.


Displaying or Distributing in Class

What can you use or show in a classroom? Can you hand out copyrighted materials to students?

There are two legal bases authorizing the display, performance, and distribution of copyrighted materials in class.

1.  Section 110 of U.S. Copyright Law, which permits 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. Showing a lawfully-obtained film or video clips in a classroom would fit into this provision.

2.  Section 107 of US Copyright Law, the "fair use" provision, which authorizes the creation and distribution to students of multiple copies of copyrighted works for classroom use, without first having to obtain the copyright holder's permission--provided that the use is "fair."


What's "Fair" for Purposes of Making Multiple Print or Digital Copies?

If you're relying on Section 107 of the Copyright Act noted above, you'll need to make a case-by-case decision for each work you want to distribute. The decision rests on the following four factors. 

When considering these factors, keep in mind that the fair use exception is purposefully broad and flexible to promote academic freedom, expression, education, and debate.


Fair Use Factor


Tip for Applying the Factor

1.  The purpose and character of the use, including whether the intended use is commercial vs. for nonprofit educational purposes.


Uses in nonprofit educational institutions are more likely to be fair use than works used for commercial purposes.


2.  The nature of the copyrighted work.


Distributing factual works is more likely to be fair use than doing so with creative, artistic works such as musical compositions.


3.  The amount and significance of the portion used in relation to the entire work.


Copying smaller portions of a work is more likely to be fair use than larger portions.

4.  The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the original.


Uses that have no or little market impact on the copyrighted work are more likely to be fair.


The following questions can help you weigh the outcome of those four factors:

  • Are you planning on using the work in a different way, or for a different purpose, than the original creator?  In copyright terms, is your use “transformative”?
  • Are you using an amount of that work that is narrowly-tailored to your new purpose?

Best Practices

Not sure how your use shakes out under those four factors? If you're trying to work through them, the UC System has tried to streamline the decision-making process for you.  

They recommend adhering to the following guidelines when making copies for classroom use:

If you want to:  Create multiple print or digital copies of articles, book chapters, or other works for classroom use or discussion, then there should be:

1.  A clear connection between the work being copied and the instructor’s pedagogical purpose

2.  An amount copied tailored to include only what is appropriate for the instructor’s specific educational goals

3.  Access to works distributed online provided only for the duration of the course for which they are provided, and limited to students enrolled in a course and other appropriate individuals (e.g. teaching assistants for the course)

4.  Each copy includes full attribution in a form satisfactory to scholars in that field


More Help

You can find even more information in the UC's Copyright for the Classroom guide.

For help evaluating fair use, try the American Library Association's Fair Use Evaluation Tool

Columbia University also has an excellent Fair Use Checklist demonstrating the factors that weigh for and against a finding of fair use. It can also be a great tool for keeping track of your fair use decision-making.

Note that as a matter of Berkeley policy, it is the instructor's role to make fair use determinations. Sorry, the Library cannot make fair use determinations for you!

However, we are happy to explain the issues and provide resources. Contact us!