The author is not a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice.

Imagine that your students are creating videos for a class project. Although the project itself may be simple, the copyright issues involved are complex. Will students be using clips from videos created by other people? Will the final videos be shown in class or posted online? If so, copyright applies. Although copyright law gives copyright holders the power to determine how their works are used–including in student projects–there are, fortunately, many exemptions that apply to educational use.

You’ve probably shown videos in your classroom before, but did you know that this practice is allowed under copyright law? Section 110 of the Copyright Code says that instructors may play copyrighted audiovisual materials in the classroom, as long as the copy used is a legal copy and the work is being used to support instruction. If you’re not sure whether this exemption applies to your intended usage, you can use this handy tool.

A much broader exemption that can apply to educational use of copyrighted materials is Fair Use. There are four factors that must be considered in evaluating whether Fair Use applies:

  1. the purpose and character of the intended use

  2. nature of the work to be used

  3. amount and substantiality of portion used

  4. effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the work

In determining whether Fair Use applies to your intended use, The Fair Use Evaluator tool can help you document the factors weighing for and against Fair Use. The tool can’t tell you for certain that you’re protected under Fair Use, and, in most cases, neither can a copyright expert. The Fair Use factors are open to interpretation, and only a judge can rule that use of copyrighted materials is covered or not covered by Fair Use.


Another option is to use public domain or Creative Commons-licensed materials. Works in the public domain have no copyright restrictions and can be freely copied, used, and reused. This chart shows which materials are currently in the public domain as of January 2013. Works with a Creative Commons license allow some uses that are typically protected by copyright, and most CC licenses allow non-profit educational use. To learn more about the different kinds of licenses, visit the Creative Commons website.

Connelly Library has many resources to help you learn more about copyright and evaluate the copyright status of resources you find. Your first stop should be our LibGuides. Our copyright LibGuide has links to library books about copyright, tools to evaluate whether your use is permissible under copyright law, and sources of public domain and Creative Commons-licensed images. If you have a specific question about copyright, you can always contact me to discuss your specific case (with the caveat that I’m a librarian, not a lawyer).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *