Distance education is when a course is taught either solely online or when components of face-to-face instruction are taught online by means of course management systems like Blackboard. Distance education generally includes materials that must be digitally transmitted to students. This transmission is authorized under the TEACH Act, a 2002 revision of the copyright law. The basic premise behind TEACH is to allow comparable instruction in the online environment as to what takes place in a traditional classroom or face-to-face instruction.
One of the major requirements of this law is that materials can only be digitally transmitted to students who are officially enrolled in the course, and even then the materials can only be retained for short periods of time. There are numerous other requirements for teaching, technology, and course materials that instructors must also meet before taking advantage of the TEACH Act. For a more thorough overview of this exception, see the section devoted to the TEACH Act.
Resources for Teaching Faculty, Part II: Uses in the Online Classroom/Course Management System (Association of Research Libraries) - This website answers some of the frequently asked questions regarding copyright and how it applies to distance education scenarios.
Streaming of Films for Educational Purposes (Association of Research Libraries) - Issue brief reviewing the legal status of streaming entire films to students located outside of physical classrooms.
The TEACH Act
The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was signed into law in October 2002. It revises the section of the U.S. Copyright Act that governs the use of copyrighted material for the purpose of education. Specifically the TEACH Act modifies and clarifies the ways in which copyrighted material may be used in distance education by an "accredited non-profit educational institution," without permission of the copyright owner.
The TEACH Act extends earlier allowances granted to educators, but also specifies new requirements for how far educational institutions must go in preventing copyright infringement. Educators are only protected under the TEACH Act if they work for an accredited institution that stands in compliance with the new requirements. In essence, the greater freedoms granted to instructors are balanced with greater responsibility for oversight or management of distance education at the institutional level.
Benefits of the TEACH Act
The TEACH Act allows instructors to do the following things, again, under specified conditions:
Requirements of the TEACH Act
In order to take advantage of these benefits, instructors and institutions must meet certain policy requirements specified by the TEACH Act. Reasonable measures to ensure that only enrolled students will have access to materials during the course of instruction must be in place before TEACH exemptions can be made. Below is a list of some of the other primary requirements:
While the TEACH Act thus expands the scope of educators' rights to perform and display works for distance education, the new law still contrasts markedly from the "classroom exemption" provision of Section 110(1) that provides an absolute exemption to the exclusive rights of the copyright holder for performances and displays in face-to-face classroom instruction. In a classroom environment an educator may show or perform any work, regardless of format, with no permission required and without paying royalties; under the TEACH Act, the same educator would have to scale back some of those materials to show them to distant students.
The opportunities for applying the TEACH Act may be limited in scope, but keep in mind that you can always fall back on fair use when deciding whether or not to use copyrighted works in distance education classes.
Additional Resources on the TEACH Act
Content in this page was used or adapted with permission from one or more institutions. Please see acknowledgements.