Fair Use Fears in Online Course Development
It has become very common for online courses to include the use of images, videos, music, and text from copyright materials. Some professors, instructional designers, and students are quick to show no fear and claim that the use of copyright materials is covered under the Fair Use Doctrine as defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code § 16).
However, there has been confusion over the years as to what constitutes Fair Use of copyright materials in online courses. It is not as simple as believing that all use for educational purposes is Fair Use and not copyright infringement.
One approach that is popular with some professors and students is to avoid the question of Fair Use altogether by using sources that are available through Creative Commons (CC), as Open Educational Resources (OER), or that are in the Public Domain. This approach however is not ideal to the learning and sharing of ideas that benefit culture and society as outlined in the Fair Use doctrine. It only results in the protection of copyright material for the copyright holder beyond what is provided for in copyright law.
A Creative Commons license granted by a copyright holder as a concept is a welcome way to increase access to copyright materials that allows for the free distribution of a copyrighted work. However, it is reliant on the copyright holder deciding which works to share.
The goal of professors, instructional designers, and students should be to gain a better understanding of the Fair Use doctrine and all of their options when it comes to the use of copyright materials in online courses.
There are a number of websites that provide guidance on the Fair Use Doctrine. For example, The University of Rhode Island’s University Libraries provides the comprehensive website Fair Use and Copyright for Online Education: Copyright which clearly defines the difference between Copyright and Fair Use and gives case examples for the fair use of images, videos, music, and text from copyright materials.
How do you educate faculty on the use of copyright materials, Creative Commons licenses, and what constitutes Fair Use?