Copyright Conundrum

Imagine this teaching scenario… A student is creating a presentation about his grandparents’ home country. He wants to insert ethnic music and video clips in the presentation. The teacher tells him it’s okay as long as he cites his source. Was the teacher right? 

It depends. It is acceptable as long as the student only uses 30 seconds of a licensed music song and 10 percent or three minutes (whichever is less) of a video.

Staying copyright compliant can be difficult for educators. The Fair Use Doctrine of the Copyright Act does allow educators to legally use music, websites, video, print, images, etc. for teaching purposes without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. The real trick, though, is to understand the fine print of the law. Every time a teacher uses someone else’s work, he/she needs to consider four factors when determining fair use:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

As librarians, Kellie and I are often asked if it is okay to make a copy of something to use for instructional purposes. As much as we would like to say yes in every case, we legally cannot. If you were us, what would you say to your colleagues in these situations?

Question 1: A history teacher is preparing to teach a lesson on terrorism highlighting the American and Afghan viewpoints. She found a PBS: Frontline ISIS in Afghanistan episode online that is perfect for showing the American perspective. She mentions that she is going to show students the Afghan terrorism perspective from a show she taped two weeks ago. She is clearly pumped about her lesson and knows these episodes will engage students and promote a great discussion about terrorism. What would you say?

Answer 1: It’s okay to use the PBS episode. PBS is a great teaching resource as the basic service is free for teachers. Plus, you can browse by standards, grade level, subject area, and special collections. However, you tell her she can’t legally use her taped episode. Schools are only allowed to retain taped television shows for a minimum of 10 school days. You encourage the teacher to request permission from the copyright holder. You also offer to pay for a DVD copy of that show (or similar one) to put on the district’s Video on Demand system.

Question 2: A high school science class is studying climate change and must gather materials for their multimedia projects. The teacher downloads pictures and articles on the topic from various Websites. The teachers put these materials in the school’s shared folders for students to access to create their presentations (Google Slides, Weebly, Prezi, and PowerPoint). What do you say?

Answer 2: It is acceptable to go to the Web to find resources. However, students can’t put these projects back up on the Web without permission from the copyright holders. Students can post links to legitimate resources in the presentations. You remind teachers that this is a great opportunity to teach website evaluation, as these resources must have been legitimately acquired in the first place! There are two exceptions, though:

  1. Public Domain – is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and you do not need to ask permission to use. Some examples: ideas and facts (date of the Gettysburg Address), creators who assigned their work to the public domain, and because the copyright has expired.
  2. Creative Commons – is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, or build upon a work that they have created.

When I’m answering these questions, one of my favorite “cheat sheets” is the Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers by Hall Davidson. This chart outlines the medium, the specifics of the law, and what you can legally do under the law.

When working with students, you might want to also direct them to the district’s Information Literacy LibGuide. The images, videos, and music tab has a curated list of copyright friendly photos, images, music, sound, clip art, and video sharing sites.

As you work on your research projects, please contact Kellie or myself if you would like us to create a LibGuide or answer any copyright questions.


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