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Active Learning & Technology: Using streaming media and multimedia in the classroom: Copyright and media


Our Founding Fathers considered copyright and covered it in article 1, section 8 of the Constitution when they wrote, "The Congress shall have Power To ...promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

Not in their wildest imaginings, however, did they understand what technological changes would occur that would affect copyright questions in the 21st century.  The ability to easily copy, download, digitize, email, and/or scan have all added wrinkles to how copyright is interpreted and enforced.  There are some who believe that the copyright law is out of date and in need of revision in order to be more in-step with the electronic age in which we live.

This LibGuide discusses the use of media and multimedia in student assignments and outlines some of the basic copyright issues for this special medium. 

Fair use and media

The Center for Social Media at American University has put together a very good video, entitled "Fair Use is Your Friend", discussing fair use rights and media

Fair Use Factors

Fair Use is an exemption that is provided within the copyright law, that allows someone to use a copyrighted work without permission. 

There are four factors considered for fair use; not all have to be met in order for the fair use argument to be used - however, just meeting one of the factors can also not necessarily be considered conclusive.

Purpose Nature Amount Effect

the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational
purposes;  was the
use transformative?

the nature
of the copyrighted work

the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

The difficult aspect of fair use is that there is no hard and fast way to know if your use is a fair use; that can only be decided by litigation.  All four of these factors need to be considered when trying to decide. 

For example, anything used when teaching a class is probably an educational use, which is one of the four factors.  However, this doesn't mean that a court would rule favorably in every single case that involved teaching; the other factors also play a part. 

Was the use transformative or a direct copy?  There is more leeway for a transformative use, such as a parody or mash up, than for a direct copy of a piece of work.  A good example of this is the Andy Warhol Campbell Soup can paintings; while they directly copied the cans, their transformation is what made the copy allowable.

Was the amount used reasonable or was it the entire work or the "essence" of the work?  Did the use have an effect on the market for the item?  Was the work used fiction or non-fiction?  Courts tend to look more favorably at allowing the exemption if the item was nonfiction.  For example, using part of a newspaper story vs. using part of a novel.

There are some handy tools to use when considering fair use. 

  • This checklist helps when considering the fair use factors.
  • This digital slider helps ascertain if something has become part of the public domain.