Back to Index

Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons

cop·y·right n. Abbr. c. or cop.
The legal right granted to an author, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.

Technology has made it easy for us to copy from sources without regard to the legal implications. If there is a song or movie you want to own, all you have to do is click a few buttons on your computer. When you copy a song, or cut and paste from a website, you are taking someone’s intellectual property without permission. Copyright laws were created to protect the rights of the creator.

As an example of Copyright and Plagiarism rules, the Scholarly Communication Center at NC State Libraries reminds you, “Quoting extensively from a book without the copyright holder’s permission would likely be copyright infringement. Extensive quoting without permission and without attribution would be [copyright] infringement and plagiarism.”

Fair Use

The United State Government also promotes the legal use of resources for use such as teaching and news reporting so that your research and information use is not infringement.  Fair Use doctrine helps to establish an exchange of copyrighted information that may be transformed as needed.

You are exercising Fair Use when:
1. Classroom teaching with copyrighted material like articles, movies and tv shows
2. Using Copyrighted Materials when preparing curriculum
3. Sharing teaching materials with others
4. Students use Copyrighted Materials in their own Academic and Creative Work 
5. Sharing student work in a presentation, paper, or online


But, not all use is Fair Use. Section 107 of the United State Copyright also sets out four factors to be considered when determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  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


Some Educational Copyright Fair Use Guidelines

  • Cite your sources.
  • Limit research photocopies to single articles; chapters from a book; one chart, drawing, or picture from a source; one short story, essay, or short poem.
  • Multiple photocopies for classroom use cannot exceed more than one copy per pupil and must follow limits on length.
  • Some works have come into use in the “public domain,” because of their age or lack of copyright registry, but when in doubt, assume that all works are copyrighted, even with no symbol or statement.
  • Use up to 10% or three minutes, whichever is less, of an individual program (film, video, television) in a multimedia project. Do not manipulate media in any way.
  • You may make copies of a television show for educational use, but the amount of time you may keep the copy is limited depending on the network.
  • Use up to 5 photos and images from one author, and up to 10% or 15 works, whichever is less, from a collection.
  • Ask permission by mail or e-mail if you need to use more of a copyrighted work than fair use allows.
  • Music from the internet, iTunes, or CD’s may not be dubbed or copied.
  • Do not copy or allow others to copy software or copyrighted music files onto a disc or hard drive. The musician, author, or publisher owns the right to this, and the right to profit from it.
  • Do not post a web page without proper credit for graphics, designs, and logos.

(“Copyright and Taping Rights,” “Fair Use,” United States 8-10)

EVALUATE: There are a few tools to help you figure out if your use qualifies for Fair Use. They are from Columbia University, CUNY Baruch, the University of Minnesota, and the American Library Association.

Also see the Center for Social Media and Copyright Friendly Resources and End to Copyright Confusion.

Permission can be given by the publisher, so when in doubt, send the publisher an email or call them to get permission. Be Safe and Follow the Law!

What about Modification and Transformative Use? Yes, you may modify existing media content, and place it in a new context. But as they ask in this video: did I add value?


What about movies?

Classroom Use of Videos from the American Library Association
Public performances of a video/DVD in the face-to-face classroom is an exception to the public performance right §110 (1) and therefore lawful. The following conditions apply:

  • The teaching activities are conducted by a non-profit education institution
  • The performance is in connection with face-to-face teaching activities.
  • The performance takes place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction.
  • The person responsible for the performance has no reason to believe that the videotape was unlawfully made.


For uses that might not meet these exemption requirements, our school has paid for rights to film use in our PK-12 school through Movie Licensing USA. Here you are given a Public Performance Site License that covers specific publishers, found in their searchable database. If you do not find permission this way, you must get permission through the publisher/distributor of the film.


Creative Commons

Sharing is encouraged! A way for creators to keep some control of their work without the confines of copyright is called Creative Commons. Some rights are reserved, while freedom of expression is also allowed. See these Types of Licenses.
For example, if you need photos, try Flickr: Creative Commons area for your search!

Don't forget, you still have to cite your work using the MLA Format to give credit to the author! Look for the creator or author, even on a website. Use the Ravenscroft Researcher for details on how to cite. Here's an example:
Forbes. Brian. "Mute Swans." Flickr. Photograph. Yahoo, Inc., Dec. 26, 2008. Web. Jan. 5, 2009. <>.

Back to Index