Saturday, January 31, 2015

Learning about Copyright and Fair Use

by Brenda Snider

Many people think the purpose of copyright is to prevent others from stealing the work of individuals.  This misinterpretation threatens the advancement of knowledge and learning (Loren, 2010). The Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, states that the purpose is to promote the progress of knowledge and learning. Those who view copyright as an asset to the economy are destroying the main purpose. It is not about making money. Copyright law was originally written to further knowledge.
“Most colleges rely on section 110 of the copyright statute (17U.S.C. section 110). The first part of this section governs performance or display of a work in the course of face-to-face teaching, and the second part covers materials transmitted in distance education. However, these sections specifically state that they only apply to nonprofit educational institutions. As a result, the educational exceptions in 17 U.S.C. § 110(1) and 17 U.S.C. § 110(2) may not be used by for-profit schools” (Carson, 2008, p. 57).
As I begin to learn more about copyright and fair use in instructional design, I am wondering if anyone is teaching copyright and fair use in their classes.  Do our students know that if they create a work, i.e. article, video, graphic, etc. for a company they are working for, they cannot use that work in their portfolios unless they obtain permission? The company they are working for owns the copyright. 
Has anyone used A Fair(y) Use Tale (Faden, n.d.) in their classes as part of an assignment on fair use, for example asking your students to analyze the video based on the four factors that judges consider when determining fair use: the purpose and character of use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion borrowed, and the effect of the potential use on the market?
Carson, B.M. (2008). Legally speaking—Copyright and for-profit educational institutions.DLPS Faculty Publications. Paper 9. Retrieved from

Faden, E. (n.d.) A Fair(y) Use Tale. Retrieved from
Loren, L.P. (2010). The purpose of copyright. OpenSpaces Quarterly. Retrieved from


  1. Informative. Thanks! It may be that the confusion about the purpose of copyright, that Lydia Pallas Loren refers to, is partly a result of the interaction (influence or even confusion) of means and ends.

    As Loren notes: 'The primary purpose of copyright is not, as many people believe, to protect authors against those who would steal the fruits of their labor....The core purpose of copyright law is...."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."'

    Safro Kwame

    1. Kwame,
      Thanks for your response. The only problem is a “limited time” used to be 14 years and now it is the author’s lifetime plus 70 years.

      This week I have been reading about the TEACH Act ("Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act"), which was signed into law November 2, 2002.

      According to the TEACH Act, there are requirements that non-profit educational institutions have to follow. Most of the requirements are for the policymakers and technology supervisors to implement. For example, institutions need copyright policies. These do not have to be formal. They can be “informal procedural standards that effectively guide relevant activities may well satisfy the statutory requirement.” I assume we have these.

      According to this law, we need a notice to students that materials may be subject to copyright protection. “The notice could be included on distribution materials in the class or perhaps on an opening frame of the distance-education course.” I do not remember seeing a notice on the LMS. I wonder if we have one.

      Instructors need to link to materials that are already digitized instead of the instructor digitizing the material. “For example, specific materials are available through an online database, or marketed in a format that may be delivered for educational purposes through "digital" systems.”

    2. Forgot to post the link:

  2. It's a very complex issue. I teach some of it in my Media Law and Ethics class--primarily from the standpoint of creators/media institutions. Fair use is one element of copyright, but there are many others that faculty need to be aware of. Ownership is a key issue, particularly with the posting of creative work on internet media on YouTube and other sites. There is also the issue of ownership (does the university own your work or do you own it?).

    BTW, for sound recordings, the copyright length is extended to 90 years past death. And death is defined as the death of the last living creator. So if there are multiple authors, the copyright runs out 70 (or 90) years after the last one's death. If one of the authors is 30 at the time of publication and lives to be 95, the copyright would run for 135 years!!! This is hardly the original intention of copyright law (encouragement of creative work and research). It is clearly now a protection for the large corporations who own most copyrights.

    Ken Nagelberg

  3. It is all a little overwhelming (OK, a lot overwhelming!) Brenda, thanks for the "fair(y) use tale" link--at least I was able to chuckle through some of my confusion! Kwame and Ken, the ends and the means certainly don't seem to coincide. I'm glad that the issue is getting some discussion, since as we move more and more to digital instruction, whether we're just posting things online that we used to distribute in hard copy or whether we're teaching hybrid or fully distance learning courses, it's an issue that faculty have to keep in sight and in mind. This might be a good issue for a brownbag discussion.

  4. If you are using graphics, charts, etc. in a presentation that you are giving and getting paid for, you must obtain permissions to use the information. This puts a different outlook on how I assist faculty with their PowerPoints.