Copyright and Fair Use


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A quiz and overview of copyright laws, fair use in education, and resources for teachers and students to find usable images, media, and more.

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  • Randy,

    When you said, 'To my knowledge, the practices I’ve shared with students have not led to negative court decisions. I’m looking, but I haven’t found any such instances. Are there any you are aware of?'

    You are totally correct here -- no lawsuits. But although I too agree that some teachers/students 'throw all caution to the wind', many schools hyper-comply to 'the rules', which essentially becomes a form of censorship. As the Supreme Court states, 'Fair use keeps copyright from violating the 1st Amendment' (Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education).

    Perhaps here is where we disagree. What is more important? What do you value as an educator? '[M]aking students sensitive to copyright laws' (as you said), or allowing them to comment on the culture around them, which has become increasingly copyrighted? Obviously, I value the latter. But I would argue that having teachers and students follow 'the rules' doesn't even fulfill *your* goal, unfortunately, because 'the rules' do not represent the law and do not have the force of law.

    Does that make sense?
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  • Spiro ,
    I won't disagree with you. The law is not nearly so cut-and-dry as the presentation would imply, particularly with regard to how much use is fair use. However, because of the ambiguity and subjectivity of the law, these guidelines (and that is what they are) have been used and scrutinized in education, even by attorneys, for quite some time, and have proven useful. Steven didn't invent them--I've seen this same info for years. The Stanford University Library advocates the same guidelines ( Regardless of their source, they have been followed within education for some time now, and, I would argue, successfully. They probably do attempt to make the abstract perhaps too concrete, but they do the main job of making students sensitive to copyright laws. You may not consider this to be enough, and that is reasonable. Facing the realities of the day-to-day k-12 setting, where students and teachers throw all caution to the wind, however, I consider it a monumental step in the right direction.

    Here is the biggest challenge. All I have to do is visit 10 different sites from 10 different universities to get 10 different opinions/interpretations by academic 'experts.' (I did this, believe me.) This is problematic and symptomatic of copyright law, in general. Much is left to the interpretation of lawyers and the courts. To my knowledge, the practices I've shared with students have not led to negative court decisions. I'm looking, but I haven't found any such instances. Are there any you are aware of?

    Actually, the one of the four criteria I omitted of was really the nature of the work (intentionally). This was the most difficult to define clearly to students. However, I did find the Fair Use Checklist by Columbia University ( to be a handy tool for this area. I mention it while presenting, but didn't put it in the slideshow. I'll revise and repost. I like what you have to say about reasoning, and I should and will address this to a greater degree in my future presentations. Don't think I'll throw the baby out with the bath water just yet, however. I'm a bit stubborn, and I'll need more convincing before I just abandon something. I am listening, however.
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  • hmmm...looks like the HTML for my links didn't go through
    Be sure to READ the copyright office's description of the Fair Use clause

    and here is the reasoning tooo
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  • Indeed the copyright clause states that there are FOUR factors that must be considered before making a decision to claim fair use. And although copyright 'guidelines' may give the impression of positive law, There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Fair use requires a REASONING which the context and situation must be considered. When I present on the subject we talk about the difference between just showing The Little Mermaid to classes in the auditorium on the day before winter break...and showing the same film in order to analyze fanciful is the same act (showing the film) but in different context can be considered fair use. If the coldplay music was being using simply as background....then while many artists would consider 30 seconds as fair use,,,ireally isn't fair use at all as they are using the music for the same intent and purpose as the artist, to entertain. If a student needed 52 seconds to illustrate a certain point or to make a certain analogy that WOULD be considered fair use-the used only what they needed for a purpose different from the artist. I encourage you to throw those guidelines AWAY :) Instead, teach educators to REASON. here is a tool that will teach students and teachers to think about whether or not their use is a fair use.
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  • Hi Randy,

    Unfortunately, the 'Fair Use Guidelines' you present in your Pop Quiz perpetuate the myth that fair use can be boiled down to a set of numbers and percentages. According to Kenneth Crews (a preeminent scholar in the field), “ fact the guidelines bear little relationship, if any, to the law of fair use”.

    I would strongly encourage you to take a look at Renee Hobbs' book, Copyright Clarity, or download the 'Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education' for free at

    I would be happy to talk to you more on this subject before your next presentation. I am leaving a similar comment on Steven Anderson's site, too. I can connect you with Renee Hobbs of Temple University if you have further questions about this critique.
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Copyright and Fair Use

  1. 1. Copyright and Fair Use<br />A Cautionary Tale<br />©<br />Randy Rodgers<br />Instructional Technology Specialist<br />Birdville Independent School District<br />
  2. 2. Pop Quiz!<br />
  3. 3. You create a 3 minute YouTube video for a class project, setting images to a background track of “Clocks” by Coldplay. You cite Coldplay as the owners/authors of the song.<br />Fair use—go for it!<br />Copyright infringement—lights go out and you can’t be saved!<br />
  4. 4. In a blog post for English, you quote and properly cite the entire text of a short poem (200 words) by Maya Angelou.<br />Poetic justice—it is fair use.<br />Copyright infringement! Don’t steal the rhyme if you can’t do the time!<br />
  5. 5. In a multimedia presentation, you use 2 minutes of video from an ABC News broadcast on Hurricane Ike.<br />Breaking news: it is fair use!<br />It is copyright infringement and could be disastrous!<br />
  6. 6. Copyright infringement is punishable by up to 1 year in jail.<br />Absolutely. Cut-and-paste, go to jail (maybe).<br />You can’t be serious—it was just a Weird Al song.<br />
  7. 7. You post information for a science research project on a wiki. You do not include a copyright statement. Is your work protected by copyright law?<br />No. You must include a statement of copyright and one of those little “C” thingies.<br />Yes. My original ideas are mine—get your own!<br />
  8. 8. Factual information is protected by copyright law.<br />Fact is, yes.<br />Only the facts, ma’am—no protection.<br />
  9. 9. Copyright is protected after the death of a work’s owner.<br />Yes—even ghosts have rights under copyright law.<br />No. They’re dead. What do they care?<br />
  10. 10. That original dance move your cousin Boudreaux created is all the rage in the bayou. Can it be copyrighted.<br />Yes, you can bring the funk and the copyright protection, Boudreaux!<br />No, you have to have actual talent to be protected by copyright law.<br />
  11. 11. What Can Be Copyrighted?<br />Music and lyrics<br />Original text<br />Movies, video, & multimedia<br />Architectural designs<br />Visual artworks<br />Dramatic works<br />Audio recordings<br />Dance, choreography, and pantomime<br />Source: Pierce, Aimee (2010). Copyright Law: A Brief Overview for Teaching Professionals<br />
  12. 12. Guidelines for Fair Use<br />In order to fall under fair use guidelines, the borrowed work must:<br />Be for non-profit or educational use.<br />Fall within specific limits.<br />Not cause an adverse monetary effect on the original work/creator.<br />
  13. 13. Guidelines for Fair Use<br />How much use is fair use?<br />Music: Shorter of 30 seconds or 10%<br />Video: Shorter of 30 seconds or 3 minutes<br />Poetry: Up to 3 works and 250 words<br />Text: Shorter of 1,000 words or 10%<br />
  14. 14. Guidelines for Fair Use<br />How much use is fair use?<br />Photos: Up to 5 works by 1 photographer<br />Data: Lesser of 10% or 2,500 entries/fields<br />Source: Anderson, Steven (2008). Can You “Copy” That?<br />
  15. 15. Guidelines for Fair Use<br />Number 1, ultimate, supreme, best option…<br />Get the owner’s permission!<br />
  16. 16. 2 Words to Learn, Love, & Live…<br />Creative Commons<br /><br />
  17. 17. What is Creative Commons?<br />A nonprofit corporation promoting the sharing of original works with other users for specific purposes and in specific ways.<br />
  18. 18. Examples <br />
  19. 19. Examples<br />
  20. 20. Examples<br />
  21. 21. Examples<br />
  22. 22. Examples<br />
  23. 23. Examples<br />
  24. 24. Discussion<br />This presentation may be accessed and downloaded from<br /><br />