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Copyright and Fair Use: Copyright in the Classroom

Overview of fair use, DMCA, TEACH Act, and recent court decisions

Classroom Matters

Course packs for which copyright use permissions have been acquired for all contents are acceptable because paying the fees to obtain those permissions protects the copyright owners’ rights. However, course packs for which permissions have not been obtained for all contents are probably the most common target for copyright violation prosecutions, since such course packs deprive the copyright owners of rightful earnings from their creations. Individual instructors, libraries, copy stores, and even universities have been successfully prosecuted for violations involving course packs. Therefore,written copyright permission must be obtained for all materials in a course pack. Most reputable copy centers and printers will not reproduce course packs without being provided in advance with documentation proving that copyright permission has been obtained because of these cases. Stanford University has a clear explanation of the history and issues involved at:

The length of time copyright applies to any work—text, image, sound, whatever—is determined by the date of its creation. See the chart on p. 5 of this document to determine how long a work is under copyright. At the same time, there are some archives of images available on the Internet that are copyright-free; check the stipulations on image use when you consult a particular archive and seek permission to use copyrighted material. Often archives of web “clip art” fall into the copyright-free category, but it is the user’s responsibility to check.

Students who are creating presentations for which they are graded are generally exempt from copyright restrictions on materials they embed in work to be graded. However, if they wish to use that material in any other way (for instance, including it in a digital portfolio or placing it on their personal websites), they must abide by relevant copyright restrictions.

Yes. The copyright law makes no distinction between “news” and “entertainment.”

Because of the proportionality clause, a clip so short would probably not be considered infringement, but the law itself does not set any minimum time quantities or proportions. 

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Library Matters

CDs and DVDs can be placed on reserve and students may use them in or out of the building according to the circulation period set by the faculty member (overnight, 3 hours, etc.).  What faculty may not do, however, is record selections for students to use (the musical or visual version of a course pack) on a CD or DVD.  Rather, if they wish students to listen to 20 selections from 20 different CDs, they have to place all 20 CDs on reserve.  The same is true for DVDs. Faculty can place them on reserve but cannot “cut” selections to a “homemade” DVD or video for use.

I have some old (copyrighted) tapes that I would like to place on reserve for students, but I’m afraid they’re too fragile to stand up to repeated use. Can the library make copies of them to place on reserve for me?

This is VERY tricky.  Typically copying works only if the tapes cannot now be repurchased in another form (either CDs or cassettes).  If they are available, let Dacus know and the library will buy them. If they are no longer available, then Dacus can re-record and place the recorded version on reserve—with the attribution and copyright information on the copy.  Unfortunately, just because a copy is old, it cannot be re-recorded if it’s still available for purchase.  

No.  You can send a list of what you want on Reserve (it will look like a bibliography) and we will put on reserve those items we have or point to links in our electronic offerings.  Course packs without copyright permissions for all contents are forbidden in whatever iteration, be it on reserve or on Blackboard. 

I understand I have to abide by copyright with material written and/or created by others. But I'm fine if I use my own commercially published materials, right?

Wrong!  Unless you specify explicitly that you wish to retain copyright in the contract you sign (even for articles) you DO NOT hold copyright (and yes, must ask for permission).  Some (not many) publishers will hold copyright on something like an article for three months (or for some specified duration) and then let if revert to he author/creator.  This will, however, be spelled out in the contract.  Faculty need to be aware that the vast majority of contracts give all rights to the publisher.  Exceptions are found but these are generally case-specific.  As more authors require this, it will change.  For now, however, if you wish full creative control, you must specify that before the intellectual creation is published.  Do bear in mind that publishers are most reluctant to do this.  An author who requires this may well be looking for another publisher. 

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Using CDs, VHS Tapes, and DVDs

No.  Some educational movies/films come with an educational license that grants permission for public viewing.  You must contact the copyright holder to verify the status and specific guidelines of the specific movie/film titles.

As long as you are using clips only, and not extended clips at that, you should be fine.  The trouble comes when you show, say, 50 minutes of a 90-minute movie.  That could break the proportionality clause of the Copyright Act. However, in some cases covered by section 110 (1) of the Copyright Act, it can be argued that it is necessary to show an entire work (for instance, in a literature and film class, where you are comparing the written version of a work with its film representation, or in a music theory class, where you are studying a particular symphony). In all cases, you must put the use of the work on your official syllabus, make it part of face-to-face mediated instruction, and keep records of both the showing and the educational activities that were part of the showing.

This constitutes a public viewing, so permission is required. Check the sales receipt and packaging for your video. If it does not explicitly give you the permission to show it publicly, then you must seek permission from the copyright holder.

Yes. The Internet is just one more way of distributing copyrighted material. If the material is copyrighted, it doesn’t matter where you acquire it. The laws protecting the copyright on that material still hold.

If the material is currently publicly available without license on the Internet, you can show that streaming video in your class. If the video is on a protected site (for instance, you need a password to access it), it would be best to seek permission before streaming it.

No, as long as only members of the organization are present for the viewing and members are not charged a fee.

My student organization wants to advertise the showing of a movie and invite the campus community to attend along with the members of the organization. Does this require a public performance license?  

Yes, because you are inviting non-members which makes it a public viewing and requires a license.  The fee for a public performance license runs on average $300 - $650.  Whether or not you charge admission to the movie makes no difference.

I have purchased a DVD of a PBS TV broadcast. May I show it on campus to a group of students for educational purposes, i.e., a residence hall academic success community event, without getting permission from the copyright holder?

This is still considered a public performance. Unless the purchase comes with a license for public viewing (which should be indicated on the sales slip or the DVD packaging), you must get permission from the copyright holder before showing it to your group. 

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Online Learning

Can I use Blackboard to post materials for students instead of clearing copyright? 

No. That’s the source of many, many copyright violation prosecutions. Such “electronic course packs” are a violation of fair use. Even though the site is password-protected, you are still depriving the copyright owners of the earnings from their creations by not requiring students to purchase the works. You may provide links to materials on Blackboard to databases in the library or to material that you find on the web; however, remember that not all material on the web is posted with copyright permission, so caveat emptor.

It is better to make a link to external files that are connected to your courses than to embed the document into your own site or online course. Send an email to the person or organization that produced the site to inform them of the link and request permission.

You must have permission from the creator of the image or the holder of the copyright except in the cases of using imagery for the purposes of examples, discussion, or teaching in the classroom.

If you have created your own website for a class that has copyright material on it and do not have a username and password page, you need to create one. There are many websites that can help you set up and secure the information on your site. Consult Information Technology in 15 Tillman for help.

Here is a sample statement that might be placed on a syllabus to show students that material is copyrighted: 
“All copyrighted materials for this course shall remain in the possession of the instructor or Winthrop University for distribution to students enrolled in this course. You may not redistribute, sell, or gain personally from these materials under penalty of US copyright law. Copyright of the material is not transferable and may only be used by the student for educational and reference purposes. If you have further questions, please consult the Winthrop Copyright Policy at” 

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Is there anything not copyrighted?

Is there anything on the face of this earth that is NOT copyrighted?

In fact, there is: government documents. Government documents are documents created by United States government employees as part of their official duties. One note of muddy (of course, it's copyright, after all) warning, however: the document MUST be the work of a United States employee working in a government agency, not a quasi-governmental agency. For example, the United State Postal Service is not government agency and so its documents ARE protected by copyright. A person doing work on his or her own (not officially) but still a United States government employee may or may not have produced copyrightable work (probably it is copyrighted). As in every case with copyright, when in doubt (and this is nearly always) ask.