Tag Archives: fair use

Learning to Live with Copyright

When I was earning my Instructional Technology stripes in the Masters of Library and Information Studies program at UNC Greensboro (we’re unranked! Woo!), I discovered that I had a surprising fascination with copyright law. So when I saw an entire seminar on Copyright and Tech Law Issues at New Horizons this year, you can bet I stuffed my tote with free snacks and grabbed a front-row seat. Because of my job, I create and/or edit a fair bit of web content, so I have to be careful of copyright when selecting pictures and text for websites. Since NOVA is a college, and most website content is not used for marketing and profit, we’re more or less covered by a handy copyright exception known as “Fair Use”. However, Fair Use is not a free-for-all opportunity to use copyrighted materials with impunity, so I like to err on the side of caution.

A few things of note:

  • Copyright can apply to any “original works of authorship” that is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” A “work is fixed…when its embodiment…is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration…” In English? Anything you write OR TYPE can be copyrighted. Even your emails.
  • If you save a copy of a computer file, that is the same, as far as copyright is concerned, as if you took that file and xeroxed it. Copies are copies, no matter how easy it is to make them.
  • If you teach, and the content you share is in Blackboard behind password protection (ie. your students have to log in to get it), you are PROBABLY okay.
  • Just because it’s on the Internet does NOT mean you can use it without permission or attribution.
  • When in doubt, ask if you can use something. And always give credit. If you can’t find the owner, find something else to use.
  • If anyone can benefit materially from what you’re doing in any way, be extra extra careful about copyright.

The woman who taught this seminar, copyright attorney Madelyn Wessel, was kind enough to post her resources and make them available to everyone (with attribution!). Here’s her very useful outline and list of copyright resources:

VCCS 2012 Outline