Copyright, Fair Use, Acceptable Use, Illegal Downloading

Despite illegal downloading being in the news, many educators still hold the misunderstanding that if students were using music, photos, video or text, in conjunction with an assignment it is considered “Fair Use” and is OK.   This statement could not be further from the truth.  Please review the “Fair Use” section on this page.  Just because educators and students want to use music, videos, photos, or text “EDUCATIONALLY” does not mean that they have the right to do so under “Fair Use.”

On the other side of the copyright issue, some educators prohibit students from using any media (music, photos, video, etc.) in presentations.  This overly restrictive stance prevents our students from being creative.  Without much extra effort, there are ways for students and teachers to include media in their work in a legal manner.  It all start with understanding the basics about copyright law.

What is copyright?  Copyright law protects everyone’s intellectual property (writing, art, movies, music, etc.) from being reproduced, distributed, performed, or displayed without the original creator’s permission.  Any intellectual property you create is automatically subject to copyright law.  Copyright restrictions do not last “forever” but can last for 120 years in some situations.  So the bottom line is that most media that teachers or students might find is protected by copyright.

Teachers and students can find much more information about copyright at the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island.

What about fair use?  The is a fair use doctrine in copyright law but this is where teachers and students must tread lightly.  There are some limited situations where using someone’s intellectual property can be legal.  Fair use depends on some particular limitations:

  • What amount of the work did you use?  For example, did you publish paragraph from a book as part of a review?  Did you publish a few seconds of a piece of music as part of an academic exercise?
  • What is your purpose for using a work?  Are you reviewing someone’s work?  Are you citing examples for academic purposes?
  • Did you transform the work?  In other words, did you start with someone’s idea and change it so much that it is unmistakably different from the original?

It is very important to remember that fair use is up to the interpretation of the courts.  Similar uses can be determined either legal or illegal.  A fellow educator once told me “If you haven’t been sued for copyright infringement and won your case, you cannot be sure you are protected by the doctrine of fair use.  You can be certain that uses like taking a song from a store bought CD as the background music for your PowerPoint slide show is not fair use!

You still want your students to be creative so what should you do?

Encourage them to use media that is protected under a Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons is a license allows intellectual property owners to give advance permission for certain uses of their works.  As long as you give the creator of the work credit, there are many ways you can legally use music, photos, videos and other works as part of creative school projects.  This video from the folks at Creative Commons explains the license in more detail.


To learn more about Creative Commons, including how to get your own Creative Commons license for free you can visit their web site.  It is easy to find Creative Commons works for your school projects.  The folks at Creative Commons have created a page to give you a head start: CC Search.

 Additional Information about Copyright Issues:

Charter Communications Information Page on copyright infringement topics

Notice of Copyright infringement:

Your internet service provider may receive information from copyright holders of illegal downloads.  The internet service provider may provide you with a notice of copyright infringement, warning you that the copyright owners may seek legal action (not that they will, but they may).

Illegal Downloading:

An individual or organization downloads copyrighted media from a website without paying for it.  Example:  Ripping a song from youtube using zamzar or media converter and not paying for the content.    Your internet provider may be tracking this information and may turn it over to the authorities.

Illegal Uploading:

Where a individual or organization uploads music without the proper copyright license to a social media service (, video share service (, or Peer to Peer service (

Please see the following links for more information

Fair Use Video from Stanford Center for Internet and Society!


Read and Watch the information below and then answer questions 3-6.

1)  Watch this video on Copyright.   The Ideal.

2)  Michael Moore’s view on copyright, not to be confused with reality.

3)  What is your view on copyright?

4)  Why is this information important to you as a teacher?

5)  Explain how you would approach a student who used/violated copyright in a video presentation.

6)  Create a lesson plan about Fair Use, Copyright, or Acceptable Use.  Use a lesson plan template that you like.

Ways to Avoid Copyright Infringement:

1)  Pay for your music, videos, and text.

2)  Do not upload videos, music, and text websites or services unless you own the copyright or the copyright is opensource  (if you didn’t make it, you don’t own it).

3)  Avoid copyright issues: Do not copy text, images, video, music or other digital media and post it online. It is permissible to use another’s work (See Fair Use), but it is generally not acceptable to publish their work online without permission. There are many open source options available for your students to use. The best way for educators to avoid copyright issues is to have students create their own music, images, and videos.

4)  Do not copy software (without permission) or load personal software to school computers. Your school may become financially libel. You may donate software to your school if you want to use it in the classroom.

5)  If you embed another’s video in a school website, you may have violated copyright, but if you link it into your website, it’s considered ok to show and use.  If the company that created the video allows you to use embed code from youtube or a similar online video service, they have “probably” given permission for you to embed their video.  Some web applications (like Moodle) automatically embed the videos when you type in a link.  So, the difference between linking and embedding may soon not matter.

It is also important to note that Youtube’s users violate copyright on a hourly basis.  Youtube receives thousands of “cease and desist orders.” Does Youtube violate copyright?  Youtube states that their users violate copyright law because the users ignore Youtube’s terms and conditions.  This video states that youtube allows users to upload and they don’t delete it because the copyright owners want people to steal their work.

Youtubes TED Talk:
Last but not least:  creative common’s is a great website/resource to get opensource music and videos.

Open Source Defined: Free for anyone to use.  All the information in this classroom is opensource and may be used by anyone, providing they give credit to Jon Morris at

Acceptable Use: The ability to use copyrighted materials in specific instances.

Four copyright conditions that allow for public use of material.

1)Public domain belongs to the people either by expressed permission, expired copyright, or any material at least 75 years old. So, if it is over 75 years old. You can use it (as much as you want).

2)  Expressed permission means that permission was granted by the author or creator before being used. so if the author says you can use it, you can use it all. It is not common for the author to give aways rights to their work.

3)  Fair use is an exception that allows for specific amounts of copyrighted material to be used under certain circumstances.

4)  Legal Exemptions such as parody or saving a work that might be lost.

Copyrightable works are as follows: Literary, Musical, Dramatic, Pantomimed, Pictorial, Motion Picture, and Sound Recordings
LITERARY WORKS – both fiction and nonfiction, including books, periodicals, manuscripts, computer programs, manuals, phonorecords, film, audiotapes, and computer disksMUSICAL WORKS – and accompanying words — songs, operas, and musical playsDRAMATIC WORKS – including music – plays and dramatic readingsPANTOMIMED AND CHOREOGRAPHED WORKS -PICTORIAL, GRAPHICS, AND SCULPTURAL WORKS – final and applied arts, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, technical drawings, diagrams, and modelsMOTION PICTURES AND AUDIOVISUAL WORKS- slide/tape, multimedia presentations, filmstrips, films, and videosSOUND RECORDINGS AND RECORDS – tapes, cassettes, and computer disks

Fair Use: The right to use copyrighted material for certain uses:

Fair Use Video- Informative

Using Disney Videos to Demonstrate “fair use.”


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. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in 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

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.   Cited US Copyright office 2/27/2011

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