Fair Use Made Eas(ier)

YSSD students learn how to incorporate copyrighted material in a research paper. This is a very good thing. Beyond their formal research papers, however, students often create PowerPoint presentations, Google Sites, and Glogs. They search for images online, drop them into their work, and never stop to consider if they have the rights to do this. In truth, they often do have the legal right to use material without permission thanks to Fair Use guidelines, but they are not entitled to use the material without giving credit to its source. It is our responsibility to teach them how to properly use others’ material.

The Wikipedia article on Fair Use indicates that Fair Use is typically provided where the use of material is for “commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.” Four factors guide the use of copyrighted material. The first is the purpose and character of the use. For example, is the material being used to make money? Or to instruct? Next, one considers the nature of the work itself. If it is useful for the public good, for example, the work is more likely to qualify for Fair Use. The third factor is the amount of the work being used. I still occasionally hear someone tell students that they may use “no more than 30 seconds or 10%” of a song in a presentation, but this is only a guideline, not law. One must weigh the portion used against the whole and determine if the amount is appropriate. The final factor is the impact on commercial value of the work. If the use of the work will prevent the original owner from profit, the use is much less likely protected by Fair Use. As you can see, Fair Use is highly interpretive. In fact, when these issues come to legal blows, each case is decided on its individual circumstances. Copyright and Fair Use are not summarized in tidy and easy-to-follow rules.

Teachers must consistently urge students to consider their use of copyrighted material. They must also be crystal clear: Fair Use is not synonymous with undocumented use. When the use of copyrighted material is protected by Fair Use, the user is not required to obtain prior permission from the owner. The user is still absolutely obligated to provide attribution. This can range from an informal indication of the source (such as hyper-linking to the source in a blog entry) to the very formal application of MLA or APA citation in a research paper. We should show students the full range of options, but stress the bottom line: If you take a bite, CITE.

The Center for Social Media provides additional comprehensive materials about Fair Use. A friend also recently brought to my attention materials from the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University. The Office, under its Director Dr. Kenneth D. Crewes, provides a very nice Fair Use Check list. I wanted to share this with you, so I emailed Dr. Crewes to ask if I may have permission to post it here. He graciously granted permission, and suggested that you may find additional resources at their website for understanding and teaching Fair Use. The Checklist would be an excellent addition to resources listed in Moodle.

Please investigate the resources provided here. Let’s all work together to help our students to better understand their rights AND their responsibilities.

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3 Responses to Fair Use Made Eas(ier)

  1. Jamie Evans says:

    Another catchy reminder for the students: CITE the SITE!

  2. Aly Tapp says:

    Thanks Jamie. I also added the Fair Use Checklist to the Fair Use/Copyright module of Techspace: https://techspace.yssd.org/course/view.php?id=14

  3. Amy Kendrick says:


    Thanks for such an important reminder about an important subject. Sometimes we as teachers get so caught up in what we need in the heat of the moment that we forget what we can and can not use! I also found this set of guidelines useful and concise, so I thought I would share!

    http://www.copyright.gov/ title17/92chap5.pdf


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