COVID-19 and Copyright Concerns

Pursuant to Governor Charles D. Baker’s March 25, 2020 order which requires all schools in the Commonwealth to remain closed until May 4, 2020, many districts are opting to engage in remote learning. While remote learning is an essential and helpful tool, it also poses unique challenges to school districts.

Many districts and their educators are concerned about violating federal copyright law when providing online resources to their students, including reading books through mediums such as Facebook Live or Zoom, or photocopying a book and distributing it to students. In response to these concerns, many publishers have modified their copyright policies. Those publishers can be found here:

Federal copyright law is violated when an individual uses an exclusive right without authorization from the individual or company that owns the rights. However, there is a four-factor test that may allow a teacher or district to engage in what would otherwise be considered a copyright violation, through the “fair use” exemption. The factors are:

  • The purpose and character of the use;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole; and
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

See 17 U.S.C. §107.

Whether use is considered “fair” is a judgment made on a case-by-case basis and is a fact-intensive inquiry. It is also important to remind students and their families that they are also at risk of violating federal copyright law.

Districts should require all students and families engaged in remote learning to sign an agreement in which students and families agree to not record, reproduce or disseminate content. Please contact us if you would like assistance in drafting or reviewing such an agreement.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.