Copyright Laws & Fair Use

by Andrea Flournoy
What is Copyright vs. Fair Use?

This video by Stanford Cyber Law Department defines copyright
law and fair use limitations using short pieces of Disney movies.

copyright |ˈkäpēˌrīt|nounthe exclusive legal right, given to an originator or anassignee to print, publish, perform, film, or recordliterary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.
fair usenoun(in U.S. copyright law) the doctrine that copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

The History of Copyright Laws

May 1790- The first copyright law was enacted to protect books, maps, and charts for a 14 year period.
1841- Folsom v Marsh; the court placed limits on amounts of original works to be used and cited.
1976- The Copyright Act of 1976 determined four factors that could be used to define Fair Use. (see below)
1998- Digital Millennium Copyright Act incorporated rules addressing distance education.
2001- The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act "attempts to come to a consensus about intellectual property in the digital age" (Nemire 2007, p.27).

Why Copyright is Important for Educators
Academic integrity is one main reason why as educators we should be well versed in copyright language. How often do we reinforce the value of respecting the physical property and social rights of others? Our students need to be taught the importance of respecting the intellectual property of others as well. Adhering to copyright laws is a means "to encourage and promote the shaing and increase of knowledge, and protect the rights of the individual creator" (Nemire, 2007, p.30).

Another main reason copyright is important for teachers is the need to maintain professional ethics. We should guide students to make responsible choices when using media for educational and social reasons (Yeaman, 2009). Students look to their teachers as examples. This is not an area where we want to be caught saying, "Do as I say, not as I do!" When we use multimedia in the classroom we should be clear about the appropriate use and credits of the source. Also, when students create projects they should be expected to do the same.

Good News: Fair Use & Creative Commons
Fair Use
As stated in the video created by Standford Cyber Law Department, Fair Use is not a right but a legal defense against strict copyright law. There are four guidelines, found in Section 107 of the Copyright Act, to consider if you are wondering if fair use applies to your situation.
Remember Fair Use only applies to copyrighted materials.
    1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes *Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.
    2. The nature of the copyrighted work
    3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
    4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use This 5 part series by Education World may help clarify the ambiguity of the fair use doctrine and its application to new technologies.
Tales from the Public Domain: Bound by Law? This is a copyright comic book from Duke University that is fun and educational. Click on the free digital version to view.

Creative Commons

In this video, you saw 4 different symbols that can be combined to create 6 different licences.
Teachers and students should be aware of the meanings of these licences and can even use them with their own intellectual property (Johnson, 2009). For more information on Creative Commons, visit their website

Practice Makes Perfect
Copyright Bay and Fair Use Harbor This is a tutorial by the University of St.Francis.
You Quote it, You Note It! Another interactive tutorial on citing sources.

Helpful Links
Curriculum - This is a great upper grade curriculum for teaching copyright in the classroom.

Images: Many of these sites below are helpful for student use. However, always preview them because you never know what people are willing to share on the internet.
  • Pics 4 Learning has a large selection of images that have been donated by students, teachers, and amateur photographers. Has easy bibliography information.
  • Kitzu is an OCDE sponsored site with kits of images by subject and grade level.
  • is a site with lots of high-quality, royalty-free images. Free for educational use.
  • American Memory at the Library of Congress is a repository with lots of free, public domain images and resources organized by topics.
  • Calisphere is a world of primary resources that are focused on California History.
  • National Park Service library of images.
  • Free Public Domain Photo Database is full of images that are free and in the public domain. There are a few images subject to copyright, but they are clearly marked.
  • NASA Multimedia Page is a gallery of free multimedia from NASA's vast archives.
  • USGS Image Gallery contains maps and images from the US Geological Service.
  • Wikimedia Commons is the image library of Wikipedia. Practically everything in Wikipedia is in the public domain so free for educational use.
  • openphoto is a site that is full of high-quality images from amateur photographers. Each image states the license. Most are attribution licenses, so you must attribute them to the artist.
  • FreePhotosBank has free stock images. They do state that you must cite the source.
  • U.S. Government Photos and Images is a repository of links to multimedia sites from many branches of the U.S. Government. Some links are not working. The majority of the images on each site are free, but double check the copyright.
  • is one of the best image search sites. They focus on royalty-free images and search from Flickr, Morgue Files, stock.xchng and a few others. They always give a link to the artist for citation purposes.----
Dylan, J.(Director). A Shared Culture. Creative Commons. Podcast retrieved from
Faden, E. (Producer). A Fair(y) Use Tale. Podcast retrieved from
Johnson,D. (2009). Creative commons and why it should be more commonly understood. Library Media Connection, May/June, 56-57.
Nemire, R.(2007). Intellectual property development and use for distance education courses: A review of law, organizations, and resources for faculty. College Teaching, 55, 26-30.
Yeaman, A.R.J. (2009). Professional ethics: On the responsible use of communication media for learning. Tech Trends, 53, 20-21.