What is Copyright Law?

Copyright law provides authors of creative works with protections and rights over the works they create.  Copyright extends to any literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, audio visual, or architectural work, including computer programs and website content.  For a work to qualify for copyright protection it does not matter whether it includes a copyright notice, whether it is distributed in a printed, physical format or in a digital format via the Internet, or even whether it is published or unpublished - copyright protection goes into effect as soon as pen is set to paper, fingers are touched to keyboard, or the record button is pressed.  Copyright gives creators exclusive rights to determine how their work is reproduced, distributed, performed, displayed, or transmitted.

Because copyright applies to nearly all of the media resources that can be utilized by teachers and students in the classroom, it is important that educators understand and follow copyright law so that they can provide the highest-quality resources to their students while respecting the legal rights of copyright holders.  Educators also have the responsibility to lead their students by example and provide instruction in copyright law.  Educators should ensure that students are learning and applying good practices in regard to copyright as students use and create copyrighted materials.

What Materials Can I Use in My Classroom?

As educators utilize media in association with their classroom instruction, they have numerous resources and options available that respect copyright law.  These include:

  1. Material purchased, licensed, or created for school use by the school, District, or state. (see sources below)
  2. Materials created by the educator, purchased by the educator, or for which the educator has obtained permission from the copyright holder for classroom use.
  3. Materials made available for use via a Creative Commons license or similar notice of permission.
  4. Materials available in the Public Domain.
  5. Fair use of materials without permission from the copyright holder when the educator, in good faith, determines that his use falls within the factors defined in section 107 of U.S. copyright law.

Always give proper credit when using copyrighted material.



Center for Social Media "The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education". Washington, D.C.: American University School of Communication, 2012

Copyright Law of the United States of America.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office.

United States Copyright Office. "Circular 1: Copyright Basics." Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office.

United States Copyright Office. "Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office.