KSC Instructional Technology


Copyright & Fair Use, by Instructional Technology Liaison Linda Farina

I recently had the opportunity to attend a day-long workshop on copyright law. That probably doesn’t sound very exciting to you, but I was excited to think I would be coming back to KSC with some tangible information that I could share with all of you.
Unfortunately, what I came away with was confusion.

Copyright law is pretty straight forward; you create something, you own the copyright to it. If someone wants to use it, they need your permission. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong. There is something called fair use that complicates the simplicity of copyright law. As the name implies, fair use allows users to ‘fairly’ use someone else’s creation without asking permission. Unfortunately, it isn’t black and white and doesn’t necessarily make your life easier. You still need to do some research to find out which situations fall under fair use before knowing for sure that you won’t be violating copyright law.

I would say most people honestly believe they are following the guidelines of fair use when creating their own personal materials, especially when they are creating curriculum materials. However, even with their good intentions, this isn’t always the case.

Try answering the following true or false questions for a better understanding of your copyright and fair use proficiency. You’ll find the answers at the end of the quiz.

1. You scan every picture in a book to use as a handout in your class. The book is out of print, therefore there is no need to ask permission to use the pictures.

2. You don’t need permission for work that doesn’t have a copyright notice.

3. You recorded a PBS program off TV last night and plan to show it in its entirety in your class today. Before you show it, you need permission.

4. You write a poem on a napkin in a restaurant while waiting for friends to arrive. The waitress clears the table, including the napkin with the poem. She later publishes the poem as her own and makes a lot of money. There is nothing you can do about it.

5. A professional photographer took a picture of your grandfather years ago. You would love to give a copy of the picture to each of your siblings, but it’s the only one you have. So, you go to the nearest photo shop and ask to have it copied. The photo shop will probably turn you away because you don’t have permission from the photographer.

6. You create a PowerPoint presentation for one of your classes. You want to include a few images, so you go to a website that allows you to ‘right click and save’ the pictures to your desktop – now all you have to do is insert them into your PowerPoint presentation. Because nothing was blocking you from doing this, the pictures are legal for you to use.

7. The author of a book you love has just died. You can now use that book, or parts of the book, any way you’d like; without permission.

8. You can use a piece of work someone else created and incorporate it into your own work without acquiring permission.


1. False. A book may be out of print, but in most cases SOMEONE still owns the copyright. It is up to you to contact the rightful owner for permission.

2. False. Copyright notices have been optional since March 1, 1989. A copyright symbol isn’t necessary to guarantee the material is copyright protected. In other words, you must assume everything is copyright protected. And to protect yourself you should make sure to get permission from the copyright holder.

3. True. Just because you pay for cable or a satellite dish doesn’t mean you own the right to whatever is being aired. You need to contact the producer of a program before showing it in class. Most of the programs that you borrow from a library that originally aired on TV were purchased with rights to show that program in a classroom setting.

4. True and false. Legally, once you’ve created it you became the copyright holder, so it is rightfully yours. However, proving it will be quite difficult.

5. True. The photographer owns the rights to the photograph. If the photo shop makes copies they are violating copyright.

6. False. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should – or that it’s legal. It’s best to ask permission.

7. False. Copyright lasts 70 years beyond death. It may be a little more difficult getting permission, but it is still your responsibility to do so.

8. False. You can create a derivative work from another, but without the owner’s permission you may have violated copyright law.

How did you do? If you’re like most people you probably scratched your head a few times. Unfortunately, copyright law and fair use guidelines are not straightforward. It requires some time and effort on your part to make sure you protect yourself and others. Educational institutions are not immune from copyright infringement suits, so be an educated educator.

For more information about copyright law and fair use guidelines check out http://www.utsystem.edu/ogc/Intellectualproperty/cprtindx.htm or the numerous other sites available on this subject.

And don’t forget, you’re invited to a brown bag lunch on Thursday, November 16th from 12:30-1:30 in Rhodes Hall, room 203. The topic: Copyright in the Digital Age.


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