A Fairly Usable Framework for Fair Use
One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to write a weekly “tech tips” column for the online faculty news. This is one such tip.
As teachers, we are perennially swapping the hat that we wear: lecturer, confidante, counselor, coach, security officer, parent. With the ability publish work instantaneously to the entire globe with a single click comes a fresh and daunting hat: copyright lawyer. The Gordian Knot of copyright law raises its Medusa-like head at several times during the year: preparing readings, vetting student research and writing, and presenting student accomplishments. At this time of the year, it seems most appropriate to focus on the last of these…
What copyright concerns come along with exhibiting and presenting student work? What follows are some questions to ask yourself (and your students) to clarify this situation. (Remember: IANAL, so this is not technically legal advice, this is friendly, collegial advice!)
- Is this work original? If the student presenting work that is entirely original — not based on the work of any other being here or on Alpha Centauri, living or dead, then you can’t possibly infringe on anyone else’s copyright. It would behoove the student to include a copyright notice on their work to protect their own copyright!
- Are you using material in the public domain? If so, then you can do whatever you want, however and wherever you want. Always assume not, unless specifically labeled otherwise: figuring out public domain is tricky. Most of the time, it’s best simply to start with material that is licensed the way you want to use it — and simply owning a work does not give you license to reproduce it (you can’t use an iTunes song as the soundtrack to your YouTube video in the same way that you can’t base a poster on an AP photo without incurring the wrath of the AP).
- Are outside sources quoted parsimoniously? Fair use allows for quotation and reproduction for critical purposes — but if you’re reproducing entire works verbatim or using more than you need to make your point, you could be violating the rights of the author (and exposing yourself to legal action). There is no hard and fast rule (and there is no straight-up “exemption for education”), but a “reasonable man” test is a good guideline. In general, if you’re in doubt, you should hedge your bet and ask for/buy permission before exhibiting.
In general, if you can’t answer yes to at least one of these questions, your best bet is to not publish: you’re taking a risk not just for yourself, but for your student and the school. Treat work that doesn’t meet these criteria as a draft, available only within the school walls. Push your students to revise their work to meet these criteria in exactly the same manner that the editor at your publishing house would push you.
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