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A guide to current copyright regulations, fair use, and the public domain.


Copyright law gives the creator of a protected work several rights but there are also some important exemptions codified in the law to allow creators, educators, libraries and archives access to these works without explicit permission.

Sections 107-122 of U. S. copyright law spell out limitations to copyright holders’ rights. The following are of particular importance to educators: 

Stated Limitations

Permits the “fair use” of an owner’s work without permission for the purpose of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”  See the Fair Use tab for the four factors that must be considered in fair use evaluations.


Permits a library or archive to reproduce works for archiving purposes, to make copies for patrons, and to participate in interlibrary loan, all without permission.


Permits individuals to lend, give, or sell copies of works lawfully owned without the permission of the copyright holder.  This is known as the First Sale Doctrine.


Permits displays of work and educational performances in face-to-face teaching and in distance education.


Permits reproduction of works for the visually impaired or with other disabilities without permission of the copyright holder.

This table adapted from Copyright (Daytona State), used with permission.

First Sale Doctrine

You can resell a book or movie you buy and the Library can lend out books in our collection because of the doctrine of First Sale.

Like Fair Use, the doctrine of First Sale is listed in the copyright law (17 U.S.C. §109(a)) as a "Limitation on [the] exclusive rights" of the copyright owner.

In §106(3), copyright owners are given the right "to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending" (17 U.S.C. §106(3)). However, §109(a) limits that right:

"[T]he owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord[.]" (17 U.S.C. §109(a))

Therefore, if you legally purchase a new book, and the copyright holder of that book receives his or her share of that purchase, you can lend or sell that book without asking permission from or sending money to the copyright holder. This right is what makes the lending library possible, and indeed, nonprofit entities like libraries are granted more flexibility in lending rights than consumers. Whereas consumers cannot lease out computer programs or audio recordings, libraries can (§109(b)).

The TEACH Act of 2002

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act as part of a larger bill to help give instructors more flexibility in performance of copyrighted works in the distance education setting. 

However, please note that the text of Section 110 explicitly notes that the instructional activities affected by this law does not refer to class activities that would include 

such works as textbooks, course packs, or other material in any media, copies or phonorecords of which are typically purchased or acquired by the students in higher education for their independent use and retention... . (Title 17, section 110)

Which is to say the TEACH Act does not remove the need to seek permission for educational use of textbooks and course materials even in distance education.

The text of the law:

More Information about the TEACH Act and its effects