Knowledgebase: Media Copyright
Copyright and Fair Use of Media
Posted by Bart Chellis, Last modified by Bart Chellis on 02 May 2017 09:06 AM

Copyright and Fair Use


This is technical advice on using media and digital media for students, faculty and staff for school related projects.  This is not legal advice, but rather a list of legal rules that govern the use of media that you need to be aware of when using media that is not your own.  You need to evaluate the use of any digital media yourself based on the content you are using and how it is being used to ensure you are abiding by legal and ethical standards.

Copyright law and Fair Use: This is a fairly convoluted and not-well-defined-by-the-courts area of law. This is a summary of the rules that apply, but we encourage you to do your own research regarding the use of media for your project. No matter what, ignorance is not an excuse, so review the following and dig deeper if needed.
  1. Let’s start with some basics: FACTS and IDEAS are not copyright-able. So, 2+2 is not a copyright-able statement. However, if I write a paragraph around teaching how to add two numbers and 2+2 is one example, that particular work is copyright-able. So the CREATIVE work is copyright-able, not the FACT or IDEA. I might have an idea of a word processing program for the computer, and my creative implementation would be copyright-able, just like Microsoft Word is copyright-able, but the idea of a word processor is not.
  2. Properly quoting and citing the author means you aren’t plagiarizing, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t violating copyright.
  3. FAIR USE: This tends to get cited a lot when people are using copyrighted material without having to get permission first. However, "fair use" is NOT a license to steal. Toward that end, we must understand that “fair use” exists so that we can use copyrighted materials for criticism, commentary, research and scholarship, and yes, the classroom/education.
  4. Be careful with the last bit of item C though: "fair use" in the classroom does NOT give us the right to use anything we want as long as “it’s for educational purposes.” We must meet four “tests” to meet the “fair use” standard; often this boils down to whether the originator of the work is getting just compensation for their effort.
    1. It must be used for non-for-profit educational purposes or significantly transformed (yes, that’s open to interpretation) from the original work
    2. Published creative works are more likely to be copyrighted, while factual unpublished work leans toward fair use; out of print items are more likely considered fair use as well.
    3. The amount of the work used: the less used, the more likely it is to be considered fair use. Quoting a line from a book while writing a paper (with proper attributions for plagiarism concerns) is easily fair use; reproducing 10 pages of the book on the photocopier to hand out in class, well, that leans towards copyright infringement.
    4. The effect on the market value of the original work; messing with the original creators market income is almost definitely leaning towards copyright infringement, no matter how small that effect may be.
  5. Note that multimedia has special considerations in these laws, as does things like music (both recorded and sheet.)
    • Sheet music may be copied in an emergency, but they should be substituted with purchased versions are substituted as soon as possible.
    • Videos can be used for instructional purposes only, but they cannot be used for student entertainment
  6. The general guidelines suggest no more than 10% or 1000 words of text, up to 30 seconds of music, 10% or three minutes of video,
  7. The internet is NOT the public domain, so just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean you can copy it willy-nilly. It’s still copyrightable work, even if the creator hasn’t filed for a formal copyright. That includes grabbing videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and other popular sources. The original authors still own the work.
    • In fact, YouTube specifically says in their Terms of Use that using “YouTube downloaders” is against the rules.  YouTube states that you shall not download any Content unless you see a "download" or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content.
  8. Downloading graphics from random sites on the web to use isn’t fair use, unless the site specifically says that you may use their graphics. There are several stock photo sites out there that offer images for free use, please use those. http://www.freerangestock.com, http://www.rgbstock.com and http://www.pixabay.com are a few of them. They may require an account, but they have no fees and the images are for commercial and non-commercial use.
  9. Here are a couple of decent articles on copyright and fair use, specifically for educators. If you’d like more information, check out the following:

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