ARCHIVED: Copyright Exemption Needed to Promote Distance Education

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Draft and enact updated exemptions for uses of copyrighted materials in providing distance education. Recommendations in the May 1999 Copyright Office Report to Congress outline changes that would expand current exemptions for instructional uses.

In the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-304) Congress required the Copyright Office to study the application of copyright law to distance education and to provide a report after six months. Library associations and librarians responded to the Copyright Office's call for testimony and information. After surveying interested parties and conducting research, the Copyright Office produced a detailed document containing recommendations for expanding the 1976 Copyright Act exemptions for instructional uses in order to support the promising field of distance education. The Report recommendations provide safeguards for copyright owners while updating existing provisions to meet technological advances.

Distance education is widely endorsed as a way of reaching many different kinds of students, particularly those who find the constraints of traditional in-classroom settings prohibitive. Technology allows teachers and students who might otherwise never connect the benefits of the educational experience. Students may collect in a classroom distant from the instructor or may work at different paces in separate locations. The Copyright Office Report notes that the federal government has promoted distance education through funding and various other forms of recognition.

Current copyright law exemptions for instructional uses of copyrighted materials were enacted in 1976 and do not allow for "display" or "performance" of materials outside of the face-to-face classroom. The Copyright Office Report outlines sections of the Copyright Act that could be amended to address these and other limitations restricting instructional use of copyrighted material for distance education.

At present no legislation has been introduced.

The Copyright Office Report is available at:


Robert L. Oakley
Washington Affairs Representative

Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative