What is the TEACH Act?

In 2002, the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was added as an amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976 (the last major revision to copyright law). The TEACH Act is designed to address copyright issues that arise from digital and distance learning.

Why was the TEACH Act created?

The TEACH Act was needed for many reasons. For one, as more and more learning moves to a digital environment, it can be difficult to apply some of the more traditional copyright rules that are designed for face-to-face learning. Second, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 restricted the use of digital media in any environment, including educational settings. The TEACH Act was enacted to provide educators with a little more flexibility in the digital environment (Copyright Basics).

What does the TEACH Act say?

Specifically, The TEACH Act covers “a performance or display of a copyrighted work by an accredited non-profit educational institution to students officially enrolled in a course or a government body to officers or employees of government as a part of their official duties or employment” (Guide to The Teach Act).

In order to apply this exemption to using copyrighted materials in the classroom, there are guidelines such as the degree to which the material is relevant to the course and the discretion of the instructor. These rules are similar to the guidelines that help instructors apply fair use. It is also important to note that the TEACH Act does not replace or modify fair use; it is an additional measure created to give educators flexibility to use copyrighted works for educational purposes.

For this reason, the doctrine of fair use might still apply to some situations, while the TEACH Act might apply to other situations. This depends on many factors, including the nature and use of the work.

Concerns about the TEACH Act

The TEACH Act is not the easiest amendment to understand and apply. Although the goal is to be helpful, definitions and guidelines, as usual, are boundaries. Some potential issues with the act are the time limits that the work is available and the “download controls” that are meant to provide digital limitations on the replicability of the copyrighted work. For more details, see the Frequently Asked Questions at the bottom of this page.

For another helpful list of the criteria for using the TEACH Act, see the list under “TEACH Requirements” here. Also, for a helpful review of many of the copyright issues discussed here and in previous entries, click on the “Test Your Copyright Knowledge” on the same page for a brief quiz. Another summary of the TEACH Act is available here.

Why is this important for writing instructors? 

The issues addressed by the TEACH Act are issues that will inevitably arise in any classroom that includes a digital component. Even for classes that meet face-to-face, there is usually still a portion of the course that happens in a digital space. To navigate this space with care, the TEACH Act, despite its boundaries and lengthy guidelines, is a helpful addition to copyright law.

Since writing courses often include readings from a variety of sources, many teachers include copies of works from different sources since there is not one book that contains all the works. Although many restrictions still apply, this act can help writing instructors understand what can be uploaded and used in a digital classroom.

Lastly, since the overall trend of copyright law is more restriction and protection for copyright owners (which is not always a bad thing), any additional flexibility for educators to use the many affordances offered by digital media is welcome and helpful.