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Copyright Basics: Fair Use, Public Performance Rights and More

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image of doctrine of fair use

Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

There are some situations that allow you to use content without asking permission first.

Fair use

  • Is a concept in U.S. copyright law that supports the use of copyrighted materials without permission of the rightsholder, in some circumstances. There are four factors to be considered when analyzing whether or not your use would be considered fair use:

    • Purpose and character of the use

    • Nature of the original copyrighted work

    • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

    • Effect of the use on the potential market or value of the copyrighted work

  • This fair use checklist from Grand Valley State University, is intended to be a guide to assist you in determining if your use leans more towards or away from fair use. Each factor should be considered equally. 

  • This fair use checklist is a kind of a pathway to guide your thinking as you analyze your specific situation. 

Public Performance Rights

  • Are the rights to show a film in a public setting, outside of a classroom of enrolled students, or outside of one's home. The rights may be held by the copyright holder, the distributor or licensing agencies. Frequently this involves paying a licensing fee. Sometimes you may have to contact multiple entities to track it down.

  • If non-enrolled students are present during a classroom showing, public performance rights must be obtained.

Public Domain

  • Creative works that are not covered by copyright law or other intellectual property laws such as trademark or patent. They are owned by the public. There are four common ways this can happen:

    • the copyright has expired

    • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules

    • the copyright owner deliberately placed the creative work into the public domain

    • copyright law does not protect this type of work, for example:

      • Ideas, methods and systems

      • Names, titles, short phrases

      • Typeface, fonts and lettering

      • Layout and design

      • Blank forms

      • Familiar symbols and designs

Creative Commons
  • A type of licensing that enables the copyright holder to retain the copyright, but also choose a license that specifies how the public can use that creative work without asking permission. Currently there are six different licenses.

  • Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse at no cost, and without needing to ask permission. The SCC Library has a guide to OER materials.

The TEACH ACT (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002)
  • Prior copyright law addressed how copyrighted materials could be used in the face-to-face classroom. With the extensive growth of distance education and online classrooms, the TEACH ACT was written to address the transmission of copyrighted materials for performance or display in teaching and learning.
  • The District has a page on the TEACH ACT and here is a page from Morris Library at Southern Illinois University with a brief comparison of the copyright laws section 110(1) & (2) regarding face-to-face and distance classrooms.