Multimedia in the Classroom: Copyright Information

Connections, A Guide to Writing Online:
Copyright and Fair Use

Coyright and Fair Use - Stanford University Libraries

UT Crash Course in Copyright


A Brief Discussion of Copyright Issues Relevant to Digital Images

Under the Educational Fair Use Guidelines put forth by the United States Government, it is possible for educators to use copyrighted images in their educational multimedia projects without paying royalties or obtaining permission from the copyright holders. Many restrictions are imposed on the use of such images and these will be discussed in the next section.

Typically, you will be browsing the web and come across an image you would like to use in your classroom. The procedure for saving the graphic to your disk is pretty uniform and is quite similar in both Netscape and Internet Explorer.

Position your cursor over the image you want. Right click (on the Mac, hold the mouse button down) on the image and choose "Save Picture As" (Internet Explorer) or "Save Image As" (Netscape). Be sure to keep the same extension of the image when you save, although you may change the name. Netscape provides a handy feature that allows you to preview the image you are saving as many web sites cut up images into pieces to facilitate faster load times. Simply right click (PC) or hold down the mouse button (Macintosh) and select "View Image."

Copyright is a legal concept that is essential to the free enterprise system of the United States. Essentially, it gives an individual total exclusive rights of a work they have created. Copyright protects expression in tangible form. The work must be creative and expressive in nature. That is, simple facts and ideas cannot be protected by copyright law.

Moreover, an idea for a great movie scene is not protected by copyright; however, the scene recorded on film -- or even if it is only sketched on a storyboard -- is protected by copyright law.

Copyright "exists" the moment an author places something original into tangible form. For example, this entire web page was copyrighted the moment it was saved to disk. Technically, if I discovered someone using portions of this web site without my permission, it would be within my right (although probably not practical) to file suit against them.

Traditionally, educators have been able to operate under exemptions of copyright law, termed "Fair Use," in order to use copyrighted materials without permission in their classrooms for teaching. With the advent of the digital age, the legal principle of Educational Fair Use has become quite complicated. The chief problematic area is that items placed on the web have the potential to be accessed by people outside the traditional classroom, even though the web page is intended solely for use in a specific class.

In order for an educator to claim exemption from U.S. Copyright Law under the Educational Fair Use Guidelines, the following must be true of the work you are using:

  • You must not have permission for use by the copyright owner.
  • You are using only a portion of the work (except photographs).
  • The work must be lawfully acquired.
  • You intend to use the work in an educational multimedia project.
  • This project will be created by you or your students.
  • This project must be part of a systematic learning activity.
  • You are using the work under the purview of a nonprofit educational institution.

The guidelines also spell out how much of a work you may use. For example, you may only use up to five photographs from a single artist. Guidelines also exist for how long you can use the works. Typically, you may use the works for no more than two years. Anything beyond that and you must obtain permission from the copyright holder.

In Fair Use copyright suits the courts typically use these four factors to evaluate whether indeed the educator's use of the works is valid:

  1. What is the purpose of the work in question? Is it nonprofit or commercial?
  2. What is the nature of the work? Does the accused infringer use it for something that the creator did not intend?
  3. What is the amount and substantiality of the work being used? Did you scan just one photograph or put the entire artist's collection online?

What effect on the potential market for the copyrighted work does the action have? They key word here is potential. Even if the owner is not currently making money off the work, what effect would your actions have if he or she went commercial with the work?

For more information on copyright and educational fair use, see the following web sites:

Fair Use Harbor

10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained

For specific guidelines about multimedia materials and Web pages, J. Dianne Brinson and Mark F. Radcliffe have authored
An Intellectual Property Law Primer for Multimedia and Web Developers
This site also covers some myths about copyright infringement as it pertains to multimedia development as well as some special myths about the Internet.

The Conference on Fair Use: An Interim Report to the Commissioner (December, 1996)
provides some of the latest information concerning how guidelines for fair use of copyrighted works by educators and librarians are being developed and lists the proposed guidelines for educational fair use for digital images, distance learning, and educational multimedia. However, this information may be difficult to read and even more difficult to interpret.

The Copyright Website

The U.S. Copyright Office Home Page