Copyright in English language teaching

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Revision as of 13:53, 3 August 2008 by Bob M (talk | contribs)

The posting of copyright material on this site is prohibited.


The following notes are the non-binding, totally un-authoritative opinions of some members of this site. Readers are strongly encouraged to take professional legal advice and not to rely on these musings. Those wishing a deeper understanding are also encouraged to click the links at the bottom of this article. You should also be aware that copyright legislation differs between jurisdictions

What is copyright?

In essence copyright is about the ownership of original works. Such an original work may take differing forms including but not limited to text, audio recordings, images, computer software, films and music. Copyright comes into existence immediately upon creation of the original work - the author does not need to make any special provision in order for them to have copyright protection. The copyright owner may licence the work for use by third parties.

In the case of text, copyright continues to exist for 70 years after the death of the creator, and for 50 years in the case of audio recordings.

When is something covered by copyright?

Although laws differ between jurisdictions, in general anything which is published by an individual or an organization is covered by copyright legislation in some way. Only the explicit placing of a work in the “Public Domain” removes copyright protection. (Anything posted on Teflpedia is explicitly placed in the public domain.)

In other words, the default situation is that a work is covered by copyright unless it is explicitly placed in the public domain.

Anything published in a newspaper, or on a web page, broadcast on the radio, and MP3 files are all covered by copyright legislation. (How far the owners of that copyright will go to defend their copyright - or indeed, if they are happy about the distribution of their works - is another question.)

So, what can I use in class?

If you are an institution or a materials creator you need to be very careful, study the appropriate legislation,[1] and make sure you get permission when necessary.

However if you are a private teacher involved in face to face teaching activities you may have an escape under the "Berne Convention;" which explicitly allows for copyrighted material to be used without prior permission in teaching situations. [2] Most developed countries, including the USA, are covered by the Berne Convention. [3]

The convention states:

“Art.10.2.- It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union, and for special agreements existing or to be concluded between them, to permit the utilization, to the extent justified by the purpose, of literary or artistic works by way of illustration in publications, broadcasts or sound or visual recordings for teaching, provided such utilization is compatible with fair practice”[4]

This has been interpreted in different ways in different countries but many legislations seem to allow the following under face to face classroom situations:

  • Copy and distribute articles for use in class.
  • Play MP3’s in a classroom situation.

What you cannot do is format these things into a textbook and sell it without permission, as this would not be "fair practice".

It seems that you should also avoid using the same copyrighted material year after year.

Finally, the above does not give you the right to photocopy course books or copy course CD’s.

In order to see what is allowed in the area where you teach please refer to the Country area information at the bottom of the page.

Implications for this site

Whereas you may be able to use copyright materials in class, publishing a class based on copyright material on a website would be a violation of copyright. So that great class you created based on that wonderful newspaper article which tied into the song by what’s-his-name you got from YouTube can’t be uploaded here.

Specific information by Region or area.

Some areas have elected to interpret the Berne Convention more restrictively than others.


The text of of Directive 2001/29/EC states:

  • Introductory point 14: This Directive should seek to promote learning and culture by protecting works and other subject-matter while permitting exceptions or limitations in the public interest for the purpose of education and teaching.
  • Article 3. Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the rights provided for in Articles 2 and 3 in the following cases: (a) use for the sole purpose of illustration for teaching or scientific research, as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, unless this turns out to be impossible and to the extent justified by the non-commercial purpose to be achieved;*[5]

The UK

The UK seems to have a slightly confusing law in this case. The UK Intellectual Property Office maintains that the law allows teachers to copy - as long as they don't use a photocopier or similar copying device.[6] This is in agreement with the UK legislation point 36 which states:

Things done for purposes of instruction or examination

(1) Copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is not infringed by its being copied in the course of instruction or of preparation for instruction, provided the copying -

(a) is done by a person giving or receiving instruction, (b) is not done by means of a reprographic process, and (c) is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement,

and provided that the instruction is for a non-commercial purpose.

Which would agree with the UK Intellectual Property Office statement. However section 36 states:

Reprographic copying by educational establishments of passages from published works (1) Reprographic copies of passages from published literary, dramatic or musical works may, to the extent permitted by this section, be made by or on behalf of an educational establishment for the purposes of instruction without infringing any copyright in the work, provided that they are accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement and the instruction is for a non-commercial purpose.

Section 34 and Section 189, Schedule 2 part 5 allows the playing or showing of sound recording and films in educational establishments.[7]

Teachers may wish to read the entirety of these sections in the original legislation which is linked below.


The Irish legislation states in section 53 that copying is permitted for educational uses as long as "the copying is not by means of a reprographic process". [8]


Spanish legislation articles 32 and, perhaps, 37 seem to allow the use of copyright work for educational purposes.[9]


Article 20 states:

It shall be permissible, without the author's consent and without payment of remuneration, but provided that the name of the author whose work is used and the source of the borrowing are mentioned, to make a reprographic reproduction in one copy and without gainful intent:....if the reproduction is the work of an educational establishment and the copy obtained is intended for classroom use.

Article 42 states:

1.Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 37 to Article 41 of this Law, it shall be permissible, without consent from the performer, the phonogram producer and the broadcasting or cable distribution organization, and without payment of remuneration, to make use of the performance or the broadcast or cabled program or the recording thereof, and to reproduce phonograms: ..... (2)for the sole purposes of teaching or scientific research;

Which would seem to mean that you can only make one paper copy but you can play films and videos.[10]


Sections 33, 34 and 80 would seem to give teaches the right to use copyrighted works. [11]


In "Chapter I" "General Provisions Art. L. 211-3." French law states:[12]

The beneficiaries of the rights afforded by this Title may not prohibit:...... - analyses and brief quotations justified by the critical, polemic, educational, scientific or informatory nature of the work in which they are incorporated;


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