How to use Copyrighted Material in Education.

We live in an era of mash-ups, mixes and collaborations. Everyday we listen to a song that mixes our old time favorite beat with new lyrics, or maybe you were surprised by a song that featured another an artist you never heard and now you love. And what about that documentary that everyone is talking about with pictures from that amazing photographer? Or that video you watched on YouTube that had all those amazing cuts from movies you love? Do you ever ask yourself if they had to pay to use that? They must have right? Didn’t your friend do a similar video and it got pulled down from YouTube? Welcome to the complicated and wonderful world of Fair Use.

Lets start with some definitions of Fair Use:

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.

Renee Hobbs in her Book Copyright Clarity (2010) defines Fair Use as “the safety valve that prevents copyright law from being a form of private censorship. Without Fair Use, copyright law itself would probably be unconstitutional.”

So you see, Fair Use is the right of everyone to use, alter, critic, comment and so many other things on copyrighted material. But is by no means a free-for-all. In reality is still a very sensitive manner of using licensed materials, because at the end of the day only a judge can say if it is Fair Use or not, and for it to get to a judge, there has to be a lawsuit. Many big companies send cease-and-desist letters in order to pressure people to remove their copyrighted material, even if in a court of law it would constitute as Fair Use, it is a common scare tactic, knowing full well that most people or organisations don’t have the money or the legal backup to fight it in court, this way the companies still have the power to censor.

When using fair use follow these guidelines:

  • Purpose of use: what are you using it for? Nonprofit cause, educational purposes, you building upon it, criticizing or commenting or are you profiting?
  • Nature of Copyright Material: What are you using? Is it news, published work, a creative or consumable work?
  • Amount Copied: How much are you using? All of the work, just a chapter, just a section of an image?
  • Effect of the market of the original: Will it affect the original? Could it replace the original or impair its market?

In the instance that your content is taken down because of copyright infringement know where to go and how to appeal your case, this are two pages that help you figure out if your video was Fair use and what to do:

The world is rapidly changing and Copyright laws will eventually change to fit the reality we are living, an example of this is Creative Commons, which created easy to use licenses to create, share and use material. They are not something besides Copyright, they are an added bonus that works alongside copyright law, but in which you have control on the uses and creations that develop from your own work.

I see CC as the future, because it closely relates to the way we are living, it promotes collaboration communication, creativity and critical thinking, which are all very important 21st century skills. As educators I believe that we should be teaching our students and ourselves to use and contribute to this project, so here is what you need to know about Creative Commons:

  • Where: you can add your material under CC license to the following sites: Flikr, Google, OpenCourswWare, Wikipedia,, Jamedo, SpinXpress, ccMixter and Soundcloud among many others, you can search for CC material from the main CC page or directly on the sites above looking for the type of license when you do an advanced search
  • The licenses: there are several types of licenses that can me mixed and matched to achieve the proper regulation of the material, they are:
    • Attribution
    • Share Alike
    • Non-Commercial
    • No Derivative


How To Attribute Creative Commons Photos by Foter. CC by-sa 2.0

  • How to properly attribute: it is simple to attribute CC license material, you only need the name of the author and the project and the type of license. If possible, always add a link to the original work and the license.

As an extra: there are times when fair use might seem daunting, and Creative Commons might not have what you are looking for, when it comes to video footage and images there is always the option of free stock photos and videos.

Here are 3 sources for free stock:

Hobbs, R. (2010). Copyright clarity how fair use supports digital learning. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin.

More Information on Fair Use|. (2015, November 1). Retrieved November 14, 2015, from


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