Oct 31, 2015

Coursework Cross Post: Week 9: Copyright & Fair Use

Originally published to a blog maintained for the Rutgers course Web-Based Multimedia Design for Educators.


My first job post-college was in the Copyright and Permissions office of a publishing company. Each day I would receive letters from authors and publishers seeking permission to use figures, tables, graphs, and other content previously published in one of our journals. My job was to approve or reject the request based on our criteria. Requests would be from colleges seeking to produce copies of articles for course packets, authors wishing to use a graph in a new article, or publishers seeking to reproduce extended passages in textbooks.

Five years later I was working as a librarian, guiding students and faculty on the ethical use of information. My general rule when working with students of any age: if you didn’t create it, give credit to whoever did. “It” can be ideas, information, pictures, drawings, videos, even sounds.

Everyone accepts that ideas and information should be cited. However many assume that if something has been published to the internet, it is safe to use in any way we’d like. I think the biggest area of copyright abuse occurs through Google Image result sets, which are often treated no differently than the clip-art that comes with MS Word. With the easy availability of material, information seekers find it difficult to believe that there is actually content out there that they are not allowed to use, even if they cite the source. Understanding how to apply the finer details of copyright and fair use can be difficult, even for those familiar with the laws.

For this reason I love Technology & Learning’s "Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers". This is a teacher-friendly guide to working with material created by others. I like that it draws the line between what can be shared within the walls of the classroom vs published to the internet. This infographic also distinguishes between the two most common uses within the classroom – instructional tool and new work. The guidelines differentiate between the two uses, clearly explaining what can be shared, how much of the original can be included, and under what circumstances use is permitted. While it doesn’t cover all circumstances, it is a good reference for teachers as they model ethical use of information for their students.

I also really liked the video “Understanding "Fair Use" in a Digital World” published by Common Sense Education. It is a great teaching model for discussing copyright and fair use with students. The teacher guides students as they evaluate works that incorporate copyrighted material. Her examples are of high interest and are from the media culture in which students live. As students grapple with determining whether the videos fall under the rules of fair use, they begin to have some understanding of what is truly acceptable for them to use in their own productions.