Monday, September 17, 2007

Distance Education and the Copyright Law

Did you realize that U.S. Federal Law can dramatically affect the way faculty teach? Well, it does, particularly in the distance education classroom!

The use of copyrighted materials in the distance education classroom is governed by the TEACH Act of 2002. TEACH is an acronym for Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization. The TEACH Act was signed into law by President Bush on November 2, 2002 and specifies how copyrighted materials can be legally used in transmitted courses, which includes courses distributed via Internet, satellite, and two-way video.

The TEACH Act provides challenges for both faculty and students in the distance education classroom environment. Even so, it provides a remedy to many of the inconsistencies in the 1978 Copyright Law, which was not distance-education-friendly. The Teach Act uses a unique, education model concocted by the U.S. Congress.

This educative model in TEACH is known as a mediated instructional activity (MIA). The MIA means a couple of things. Firstly, it means that an instructor should be present in the accredited distance education environment. Secondly, the MIA limits the types of copyrighted materials used in distance education to the same kinds of materials a face-to-face lecture would use in a face-to-face class. MIA allows, for example, this scenario: If you use a four-minute clip from the 1942 movie Casablanca in your face-to-face History 210 classroom, that same clip transfers over to your distance education course and you do not need any kind of permission from the copyright owner. Of course, you can use less time. However, you cannot use more and still comply with the MIA requirement of the TEACH Act.

Whatever media an instructor would display or perform during a face-to-face course can be lawfully and legally used in a distance education course. There are, of course, some caveats. Besides owning the necessary legitimate copy of the work, there are four basic requirements:
The performance or display must be related to the teaching content
The performance or display must be technologically limited to enrolled students
The audio/visual transmission must be encrypted and/or password protected
You cannot retain copies past the class session

In summary, the TEACH Act in digital transmissions:
Only covers in-class performances, with the provisos mentioned above
Only covers in-class displays, with the provisos mentioned above
And for any other distance education activity, for example, supplementary materials such as articles, fair use will probably need to be relied on. Failing fair use, permission and/or licensing will need to be obtained for transmitting the copyrighted material.

The sum and substance of this is that what an instructor can do in a face-to-face classroom is not the same for the distance education instructor. The distance education instructor must comply with the TEACH Act’s MIA requirements for a transmitted, distance education course.

In order to comply with the TEACH Act stipulations, and for the convenience of faculty, the University Libraries provide an online form to help faculty comply with the TEACH Act. Click on the link below.*

The information submitted on his form will be used to make an analysis for the "mediated instructional activities" exemption as defined by the TEACH Act.

The Copyright Office realizes that the TEACH Act can be complicated. To assist our distance education faculty, the University Libraries have a page dedicated exclusively to the needs of distance education faculty,
This article is the fifth and last in a series of articles on Intellectual Property Issues in Higher Education. For additional information or to have any of your questions answered, please contact Dr. Fritz Dolak, The University Libraries’ Copyright and Intellectual Property Office,, (765) 285-5330.

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