Laws and website offer educational copyright exceptions

March 9, 2015

Evan Musick
[email protected]

Copyright laws can be complicated, but options exist for students and professors to use the system in a legally sound manner.

Carla Myers, director of Access Services and Scholarly Communications, explained the general framework of these alternative means.

“There is a copyright law, and there are exceptions that are written into a law. And these exceptions let us reuse copyrighted works without having to ask permission, maybe without having to pay a license fee.”

She explained that current copyright law says that when posting works online for educational purposes, there is a certain scope of rules that apply, but that nothing is concrete.

Creative Commons is one way to legally use copyrighted material in an educational context.

According to their website, Creative Commons is a “nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.”

Any individual who creates a work, such as writing, can upload it to the Creative Commons website, choose a license that determines how much others can use that work, and have it become accessible to the public through the website.

Michelle Neely, assistant professor in the English department, uses Creative Commons in her classroom.

“This notion that ideas can – and should – be built upon, revised and re-seen resonates with me,” Neely said in an email. “We and our students read research, interpret it, and build upon earlier ideas and findings. Where would we be if earlier work was all proprietary and locked up?”

The concept of ideas being free and accessible is critical, said Neely, who believes students should become involved with Creative Commons, including contributing content.

Myers said there are two additional ways in which copyrighted material may be used in a more liberal manner.

The first are exceptions made by Fair Use in the U.S. Copyright Law. Within this, there are four factors to be considered: the purpose of your use, the nature of the work that you are using, the amount you want to use and the effect on the potential market.

The second way is the TEACH Act, which was passed by Congress in 2002, allowing those who were teaching classes online to have the ability to use copyrighted material. This use has to fall under what is considered reasonable and limited.

“Reasonable and limited does not mean you cannot use the whole thing, but it means you have to have a darn good excuse why you need to use the whole thing,” Myers said.

According to Myers, if an online course instructor wants to utilize the TEACH Act, the instructor must ask themselves if they truly want to share the work and then how much they want to share.

If the material used by the instructor does not fall under the guidelines provided by either Fair Use or the TEACH Act, the instructor can ask for permission to use the material.

“Go to the rights holder and say: ‘Hey, is it OK if I post this whole entire work, or is it OK if I use this portion?’” said Myers.

Much of the time, rights holders agree that the instructor can use the material, Myers said.

Liesl Eberhardt, senior instructor in the communication department, recalled when she was unsure of the material that was allowable in her classroom.

“I asked the publishing representative for one of my courses if it was OK if I post publisher provided PowerPoint slides on Blackboard for students in case they missed class or to study for exams,” Eberhart said in an email.

Eberhardt was permitted to use the materials because it was private and only available to students who were taking the course and had purchased the book. But she was not allowed to post the information on public sites such as YouTube.