The Internet has developed much faster than intellectual property law, and it can be hard to apply older Copyright Fair Use guidelines to the new world of the Internet. We know it’s not always easy to adhere to Fair Use policies, so here are a few simple practices that can help:

  1. Credit all the sources that you use in handouts and presentations.
  2. Don’t borrow too much from any individual work.
  3. Don’t republish anything from the Internet onto a public Web site without permission.
  4. When in doubt, consult your librarian or media specialist.

Helpful Resources for Understanding Copyright

Stanford Universities Libraries

The Stanford Universities Libraries Copyright & Fair Use Center provides articles, FAQs, primary materials, and various other helpful resources.

Copyright Crash Course 

The University of Texas offers a crash course on copyright. Its “syllabus” includes an explanation of basic and applied fair use and copyright.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creativity. Creative Commons can help you find photos, music, text, books, educational material, and more that is free to share or build upon utilizing Creative Commons enabled search services

The United States Copyright Office

The U.S. copyright office provides a brief explanation of “fair use” as it pertains to copyright.

Jo Cool or Joe Fool: An Online Game about Savvy Surfing

Includes a checklist for helping you decide if “Jo” is making a good surfing choice. Has a 20 question quiz at the end, and a 50 page pdf to help teachers use the site.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online

The editorial guidelines presented in the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. The Manual and these other components of the site are fully searchable.

Key Definitions for Copyright

Copyright is a form of protection given to published and unpublished work that gives the copyright holder mostly exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and prepare derivations of a work. ( Copyright law is derived from Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, where Congress is instructed to ” To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries; ” The primary law governing copyright in the U.S. is the 1976 Copyright Act.

Some works, especially resources either created before the existence of copyright, or whose copyright has expired, become part of the Public Domain. The Library of Congress and National Archives have created thousands of digital copies of Public Domain materials and made them available for public use. Any resource that exists in the Public Domain can be integrated into a project without fear of copyright infringement.

Educators frequently use copyrighted work under the concept of Fair Use. “Fair use permits a second user to copy part or all of a copyrighted work under certain circumstances, even when the copyright holder has not given permission or even objects to that use of the work.” (source: Teaching Copyright Glossary) Fair use is a very difficult concept. The 1976 Copyright law makes clear that educational purposes potentially fall under fair use, but it does not provide strict guidelines for interpreting fair use, but rather four factors that must be considered:

  • The purpose and character of your use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substance of the portion taken
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market

The only true way to determine whether a use falls under these four factors is to have a case of infringement adjudicated by the court system. Since this has happened very few times within the K-12 system (and certainly very, very few times since the advent of the Internet), the rights of educational users of copyright materials are not well demarcated.

For the past 35 years, consortia of copyright holders have advocated a very narrow reading of these four factors and encouraged educators to believe that they have very limited rights under fair use. In the past five years, educators and allies have made a determined effort to push back against this line of thinking, and carve out a broad interpretation for the rights of educators and students under fair use. After all the Constitution provisions copyright law in order to “promote science and the useful arts” not to “protect corporate market share.”

Resources for Understanding and Teaching Copyright

Copyright is a complex and often misunderstood concept. Fortunately, there are many resources available for learning about and teaching these concepts.

The very best resources have been created by Renne Hobbes, a professor of media literacy at Temple University. We consider her to be the leading expert on educators rights under fair use, and we greatly value her efforts to argue persuasively for the rights of educational uses of copyrighted materials.