Tag Archives: Fair Use

A Brief Overview of Fair Use and Creative Commons Licensing

Producing and sharing digital media has never been easier. A simple Google search brings up thousands of images. Music is available digitally. There are programs and apps that make creating new digital products using existing media a snap. With this ease, it is important that in addition to simply being a good citizen, one must also be a good digital citizen. One characteristic of being a good digital citizen is  not stealing or using another’s work in a way that is not approved.  With this issue comes the topic of Fair Use and the Creative Commons license.

A book could easily be written on these two topics, what they are, how they were developed, and when something is or is not considered Fair Use. For the purposes of this blog, I wish to simply provide an overview of these two items and to provide some common ways that Fair Use may be infringed upon, often unintentionally, and how to avoid possible infringement of Fair Use within the classroom.  I would like to thank Adam Fullterton for his information in my preparation for this post.

First, A basic understanding of Fair Use.  Fair Use is actually a legal defense that is used if/when someone is sued for copyright infringement. It is not a law in and of itself. The guidelines set forth for Fair Use are those that are used by the courts to determine whether or not copyright has been infringed. These four guidelines are as follows:

  1. What is the character of the use?
  2. What is the nature of the work to be used?
  3. How much of the work will be used?
  4. What effect is there on the market?

These guidelines are taken into consideration as a whole when courts consider if Fair Use is an appropriate defense.  For further details on each of these guidelines please see this link.

Creative Commons licenses is a form of copyright that allows creators to set the limitation on the use of their created content.  Products with a creative commons license tend to be more straightforward about how the creator intends and allows his or her creation to be used by others.  It is possible to find entire sites or advanced search engines that will filter by the type of licensed use. Here are a few examples of sites with CC licensed material:

There are also advanced search features in Google Images that allow users to select by license type as well.

Honestly the area of the use of digital media for educational purposes can be murky and extensive, but I’d like to share a few general guidelines to you to assist you in being a good digital citizen.

  1. Simply having the material present on a password protected system does not make it ok to freely distribute (i.e. just putting it on Moodle doesn’t clear you for Fair Use).
    • Examples:
      • Posting an electronic copy of a research article is generally considered not ok – but posting the link to the article from the school’s library database to access the article is ok
      • Scanning an article or section of a book and posting is is generally considered not ok – but making hard copies for your students to had out is ok (as long as the “how much of the work” principle is followed).
      • Embedding a video into Moodle for students to view in a traditional course (so they actually view it through Moodle) is generally not ok, but posting the external link to the video is usually ok (as long as the creator of the video allows).
      • Using popular music as a soundtrack for a digital project in its entirety is not ok, but using only 10% (or 3 min which ever is less) is generally ok.
      • In distance ed, showing films through the distance ed system is generally not ok.
      • The use of publisher course packs must ALWAYS be used with a purchased license.
  2. When finding images, video, or other digital media for use in class or projects, use sites with dedicated Creative Commons licensed materials or use advanced search options to select by license.
  3. Take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s resource teachingcopyright.org to learn more about these copyright issues as they apply to teaching and learning.
  4. Take the extra time to find the stated (if any) copyright usage statements on websites and digital media.  Sometimes these are clear (can be found in the About, Legal, or Privacy section of a web page or bottom of screen in tiny print – if it is there). Other times these statements are not there and there may be a type of ‘implied usage consent.’

The use of existing digital media in the production of teaching and student projects is exciting, but we have a responsibility as instructors and students at Morningside to use these materials in an ethical manner.  There are some tool kits out there (checklists) created by other institutions to assist faculty in determining whether their use of digital media would likley be considered fair use or not.  Here is the tool created by the University of Minnesota.