Copyright & Fair Use

Can I Use This In My Classroom?

What Is Fair Use?

Be Aware

Arm yourself with knowledge! Before you use copyrighted material in your classroom, read these frequently asked questions to make sure you're not violating the educational fair use policy.

Fair Use In Your Classroom

Fair use is an exception to infringement! It's the use of copyrighted material without the authorization of the owner for an expressive purpose. Before you use copyrighted works, consider the four factors of fair use:

  1. Is the material being used to commercial or for nonprofit educational purposes?
  2. Is the material merely factual work or a work of talent and imagination? Outdated or still available?
  3. What proportion of the material is being copied?
  4. What is the effect on the potential market value of the material?

All four of these criteria must be considered before unauthorized use of a copyrighted work can be considered “fair.” And in most cases, you and your students’ use of copyrighted material will meet most, if not all, of the criteria. But “fair use” does not permit making unauthorized copies of copyrighted material for professional use.


We all agree that copyright can be a real pain. But we can't ignore the protections given to authors of creative works like music, movies, books, and photographs.

How much of this text can I photocopy and distribute to students? The fair use doctrine allows for the use of limited portions of works for certain purposes, but there are no rules regarding specific number of words, musical notes, etc. Copies should be of a very limited portion of a textbook, article, or other copyrighted work, and it should only be used expressly for critique, education, or satire.


Can I play podcasts or audio files in my classroom as part of my lesson? Audio in your classroom should also be limited to portions of an entire podcast or audio file, and again need to be used for direct education. Distributing copies of Beyonce's newest album to students does not count.

Can students download audio files to use in their projects? As for students using audio in their projects, they cannot use music unless it falls into the public domain category (music and lyrics published in 1922 or earlier are part of the public domain in the United States). If they are using a podcast or audio clip from somewhere else, they must properly cite its source.


As with text and audio files, videos in the classroom should relate directly to instruction. Some videos on websites like YouTube and Vimeo are part of the Creative Commons and do not fall under copyright law. Others do, and showing entire films is allowed only when they are used 100% in conjunction with your lessons.

Can I burn copies of DVDs and VHS tapes for my colleagues? Copying and distributing films can be a risky business, even when you're using the film for classroom instruction. Piracy laws are very strict, so make sure that you own a site license or have permission from the distributor or author of a work before you copy and share films.

Can I use my personal Netflix account to show movies to my classes? There is currently no legislature that says you cannot use their streaming service in your classroom. While Netflix executives would probably frown upon it, if an individual teacher has a personal account, their terms of use state: "The use of Netflix service, including DVDs rented to you by us is solely for your personal and non-commercial use." As such, libraries and classrooms are non-commercial users, but the "personal" aspect is definitely questionable. For now, use your best judgement when it comes to the fair use policies.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me or check out the Copyright Alliance's educator guide to fair use.