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Copyright Law and Fair Use

Librarians often act as the gatekeepers of copyright compliance. What can and cannot be used in audio and video materials?

The purpose of copyright law, as debated during the Napster trials, is to protect the financial and creative interests of the creators, producers, and distributors or original works of information and art (whether it be audio, video, or computer software). These laws set forth the guidelines by which one may copy, in whole or in part, any work in any medium. As stated by the Congress of the United States, without copyright laws, creators would not "receive the encouragement they need to create and the remuneration they fairly deserve for their creations."

One of the leading questions school librarians encounter is whether audio or video materials may be used in a classroom without "Public Performance Rights." That is, if a video carries the "Home Use Only" restriction, may it be used in the classroom or library? Can videos be used as rewards?

The answers are "yes" and "no." The answer to the first question is "yes," if it is used in an educational, not-for-profit setting. It may even be broadcast over a closed-circuit system for multi-classroom use. The broadcast may not leave the school grounds. For example, it could not be broadcast via a school´s website so that people at home could view or hear it.

The Copyright Law of the United States, section 110:1, covers the permission as follows:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities or a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction..."

The answer to the second question is "no." Videos may not be used as rewards in classrooms unless a public performance license has been purchased. "What´s the problem?" and, "Who will know?" are two retorts that teachers and patrons will often toss out. Often many people will know. If a teacher shows a video as a reward, then the students and families of the students all know. The ripples keep expanding and soon someone connected to the studio involved will probably "hear" about it. Schools have been sued for copyright infringement.

What are the penalties? "Willful" infringement done for purposes of commercial or financial gain is a federal crime and is punishable as a felony, carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine. Even inadvertent infringers are subject to substantial civil damages, ranging from $500 to $20,000 for each illegal showing.

Is there a legal way to show videos in classroom for rewards? Yes, schools may opt to purchase a public performance site license. Companies such as Movie Licensing USA can provide such a license. Can we show videos as a fund-raiser? No. The license only provides permission for non-profit viewing of movies.

With the copyright cases involving Napster music questions are now common. A frequent infringement is the use of music in presentations. If a teacher, student, or patron, has created a video presentation, either on Power Point, with a video camera, or other source, may they record a song a play it? Not usually.

Copyright law covers most music as well. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has a special licensing available. If you create a Power Point presentation and play a song on cassette player you are not breaking copyright law, as long as you are not charging the viewers. There are sources for "copyright free" music.

Copyright law can seem very confusing. In the end, the questions are very basic. For what purpose am I showing this video to my class? Could it be considered theft? Would I be willing to swear in court that acted in good faith?

For more information see Education and Copyright.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Paula Laurita. All rights reserved.
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