Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright

Copyright owners have several exclusive rights, including the right to copy, distribute, perform or display their works or create derivatives of their works. If non-owners wish to use copyrighted works and the "fair use" and other exceptions to copyright law do not seem to apply, the non-owners must identify and contact the copyright owners for permission to use the work(s).

How do I identify the copyright owner?

There are several different ways to identify copyright owners: contact publishers; conduct Internet searches using the author's name; or contact one of the many online organizations that assist in identifying copyright owners and securing permission from them. The U.S. Copyright Office also maintains records of all registered copyrighted works. Its databases can be searched for a fee, but searching this database will be fruitful only if the copyright holders registered their works with the office and have not since transferred their copyrights to other persons or entities.

How do I contact the copyright owner?

Contact the owner in writing. Even if your initial contact is via the telephone, you should follow up in writing via email, letter or fax, so you can fully describe the nature of your request and maintain a written record of it. Allow several weeks for a request to be processed and know, in advance, whether you are willing to pay a royalty or licensing fee. MnSCU faculty and staff members need to obtain the approval of their campus intellectual property coordinators before committing to pay a royalty, license, or other fee to the copyright owner.

Is there a particular procedure for obtaining permission from the copyright owner?

There is no "right way" to contact an owner, but some owners have preferred or required procedures for permission requests. Failure to follow these procedures may lead to a delayed response or no response at all, so follow all instructions and use permission request forms where provided. If there is no prescribed method, specifically describe your proposed use (who will be using or viewing the work, how you plan on using the work, whether you want to use the entire work or only a portion of it, etc.); agree to identify and acknowledge the owner in whatever manner the owner prefers; and specify the amount of time for which you would like to use the work. Keep copies of your requests for permission, maintain detailed records of your attempts to secure permission, and save all responses from owners. If you choose to retain the services of a third party vendor permissions clearinghouse, the logistics of how to apply for permission will be handled by the clearinghouse.

What if the copyright owner doesn't respond to my request for permission or, worse still, denies my request?

If you are unable to obtain permission to use the work, consider using an alternative work or use the selected work in a more limited manner that keeps you within the limits of "fair use".

Is there anyone within Minnesota State who can advise me on clearing the copyright of a copyrighted work I want to use?

Yes. The System Director for Intellectual Property can provide assistance.

The Technology, Educational and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) passed in 2002, is a revision to the section of copyright law that deals with the performance and display of copyright protected works in distance education settings. It was intended to bring the distance education rules relating to the performance, showing and display of copyrighted works more into line with the rules for face-to-face classroom instruction. Although the TEACH Act provides some expanded opportunities for educators in distance education settings, restrictions still abound and many educators find themselves relying on the more established "fair use" rules to guide them in their decisions about when it is appropriate to use another's work.

What is the TEACH Act and how does it apply to me?

The TEACH Act is the name given to the legislation that revised the educational performance and display exemptions of the copyright law. It applies to educators involved in all forms of distance education: courses taught via interactive television with some or all of the students in a remote location; web-based "virtual classrooms" where there is no face-to-face classroom instruction; and other settings that rely on the electronic delivery of educational materials.

Does the TEACH Act apply to all educational settings?

No. The TEACH Act applies only to accredited non-profit educational institutions or governmental bodies that have policies on the use of copyrighted materials and provide information/training to their faculty, students and staff about copyright. The institutions also must have technology in place that will reasonably prevent the recipients of transmitted material from distributing the material or retaining the material after a course has concluded.

How has the TEACH Act changed copyright law?

The TEACH Act allows educators to deliver more materials electronically than was allowed under the old law. Specifically, educators now may perform, show, or display copyrighted works, or portions of copyrighted works (depending on the nature of the work) to students in remote locations, including non-dramatic literary works; non-dramatic musical works; reasonable and limited portions of other works (such as films, videos or dramatic musical works like opera, musicals and music videos); and other copyrighted works such as still images (as long as the display of such works is in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session). For example, under the TEACH Act, educators involved in distance education may perform a dramatic reading of a poem or short story for their students, just as they can with students in a face-to-face setting. They may not show an entire movie to their students (the Act only allows for the display of "reasonable and limited portions" of dramatic works) even if it is directly related to course content and even though they could show the entire movie to students in a face-to-face setting.

What other restrictions are placed on performance, showing and display?

A number of restrictions govern the electronic delivery of these works. These include the condition that the performance or display of the work be made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session. The Act also mandates that the transmission be made solely for students officially enrolled in the course and, to the extent technologically feasible, be limited to such students. For additional information on restrictions, see our Guidelines on the Performance of Copyrighted Works in the Classroom, Distance Education and Public Settings.

The TEACH Act refers to "systematic mediated instructional activities", what does that mean?

"Systematic mediated instructional activities" refers to the activities educators would engage in during the course of actual class time instruction, as opposed to activities educators might assign as part of the students' work outside of class. Under the Act, educators engaged in distance education may only perform, show or display copyrighted works if they are an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of the college or university. Put simply, educators may not electronically deliver works for student viewing outside of regular classroom time (unless, as indicated below, making the works available to the students qualifies as "fair use", such as in the case of an electronic reserve). Faculty members should always consider the market impact of making materials available electronically for students. If making the materials available electronically eliminates the need for students to have to purchase the materials, problems may arise under the TEACH Act and copyright law, generally.

What about "fair use" - does it still apply to distance education?

Educators still may rely on "fair use" when making a determination as to whether they may use copyrighted works in the electronic classroom. The numerous conditions and restrictions in the TEACH Act can make it difficult to apply. In addition, as discussed above, the Act is limited to specific types of institutions and specific educational activities. If your use does not fall within the specific limitations of the TEACH Act (or if applying the Act seems just too unwieldy), use the "fair use" rules instead.