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Copyright Guidelines for Teachers

While many teachers and administrators have a vague awareness of what copyright means, few fully understand it. There is a good reason for this! Copyright law is complex with few “rules” to follow and the doctrine of “fair use” is intentionally non-specific. Yet believers have a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to comply with the Copyright Law and to model this compliance for our students (see Matthew 22:21 and Romans 2:21).  

While there are no hard and fast “rules,” there are some guidelines we can apply when using copyrighted materials. Following is a brief examination of these guidelines as they apply to our “fair use” of copyrighted materials in face-to-face classroom environments.


  • For single copies (like personal research or transparencies), you may make a copy of an article from a journal, a chapter from a book, or an illustration.
  • You may make copies of timely articles for all students in your class provided:
    • the copies are for one course and one term only (you may not duplicate the same item from term to term without permission).
    • no more than three are from the same periodical during one class term.
    • you do not exceed nine instances of multiple copying in one term.
    • you do not have time to seek permission for the copies (the “multiple copies” guidelines assume that you don’t have time.)
  • Because many syndicated cartoon characters (like Disney and Peanuts characters) are trademarked, teachers should avoid duplication of these characters.
  • Workbook pages, including worn out dittos, should not be duplicated without express permission from the copyright holder. Sometimes this permission is granted to the teacher who purchases the book. Check the copyright statement to be sure.


  • School classrooms are a public performance arena and are subject to copyright restrictions that do not apply to home viewing.
  • You may show videos licensed for “home use” only if
    • the showing is part of the systematic instruction of the class curriculum. If you wish to show videos for entertainment or reward or in a daycare setting or assembly gathering, you must purchase public performance rights.
    • the showing is only for students, teachers and/or guest lecturers. Without public performance rights, you may not show copyrighted AV materials to a group including parents (unless they are guest lecturers)—even in your classroom.
  • Specific guidelines have been developed for the use of off-air recordings of broadcast television programs. You may:
    • Record from broadcast programs only (free to the general public).
    • Use the recording within the next 10 consecutive SCHOOL days. After that time you may keep the recording for a total of 45 days to determine if you wish to pursue rights to retain or purchase a copy. After 45 days, you must either purchase or erase the videotape.
    • Use the recording only in a non-profit educational institution.
  • You must record the entire program, including the copyright statement, though you do not have to show the entire program to your class.
  • Some cable channels, like the Discovery and History channels, provide additional duplicating privileges for educators of limited programming. Details are available at their websites.

Archival Duplication

  • Archival duplication is for libraries dealing with specific types of works, under specific circumstances and subject to additional restrictions.
  • It is not permissible to make an archival copy of a copyrighted work to circulate to students in order to preserve the original. This includes sheet music as well as audio or video media. There are two exceptions to this. See Computer Software and Educational Multimedia below.
  • While copying an audio CD to audiotape for personal use at home may be permitted under the Audio Home Recording Act, such “change of format” copying is not permitted in the educational setting. This restriction on “change of format” copying applies to all media formats, not just audio.

Computer Software

  • You may make one archival copy of software programs and keep the original filed away.
  • Software licensed for a single user may be used on only one machine. In order to use software on a network, or install the software on more than one machine, you must purchase a network license, site license, or lab pack.
  • Materials from the Internet are copyrighted. It's best to ask permission before using materials you find on the Internet unless you can specifically apply one of the guidelines above. 

For example, the guidelines for print materials suggest that we can borrow one illustration from a book for teaching purposes. It would be logical to assume that we can also borrow one image from a website for teaching purposes. However, this is from a website, not one image from each page in the site. Web pages would be the equivalent of pages in a book.

Educational Multimedia

  • These guidelines apply to computer multimedia projects (a PowerPoint presentation, for example) created by teachers and/or students.
  • Programs created using copyrighted materials may be used for instructional purposes for up to two years. After two years, you should seek permission for all copyrighted media or remove them from the presentation. You may retain a personal copy for portfolio use.
  • The amount of a work which may be duplicated is limited to whichever of the following is less: (These are not complete lists. See a copy of the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia for a complete list.)


  • 1000 words or 10%
  • poem or excerpt of 250 words


  • 30 seconds or 10% of the whole, whichever is less. Adding music to presentations, yearbooks, or other types of multimedia programs that is longer than these amounts will most likely require additional licensing.


  • 3 minutes or 10% of the whole, whichever is less


  • 15 or 10% of digital image collections
  • Teachers may make archival copies of these programs and keep a copy in circulation for student use.

In General

  • Ask. If you have questions about whether or not your use would qualify as “fair use,” you can always seek permission directly from the copyright owner. Most copyright owners are willing to work with educators.
  • Always provide a copyright notice on any materials that you use.
  • Find public domain sources. You can find some of these on the Internet, and many government sources offer public domain materials.

Helpful Websites:

by Jonna T. Carper. Updated October 21, 2015.

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Category: General