I am not an expert or professional in this area (i.e. a lawyer), but I have done a little research and had a little training, and this is what I’ve learned.

‘Fair Use’ is Good News for Students and Educators

So, most creative works that other people have made are copyrighted, and if we copy them without first receiving permission we are infringing on copyright, breaking the law, and could suffer legal consequences because of it. Unless the time comes that copyright law changes, that is the world we live in whether we like it or not…

Fortunately there are some ways that students and educators can use them LEGALLY. This legal loophole can be offered as a defense if someone takes legal action against you for copyright infringement, but only if certain factors apply. In essence, you would have to admit to use of the copyrighted material, then make a case that your use of the work was ‘fair’ according to these four factors. Ultimately it would be up to the court system to decide whether or not your use fit into the safe “fair usage” zone. So far, the court system has allowed a great deal of fair use for educational purposes, both from teachers and students.

The Four Factors:

  • The Purpose and Character of Your Use
    Have you created something new or transformed the original by adding new meaning? Parodies, analyses, commentaries, and remixes are all good examples of this.
  • The Nature of the Copyrighted Work
    Is the work factual or creative? (more leeway with factual)
    Is the work published or unpublished? (more leeway with published)
  • The Amount and Substantiality of the Portion of the Work Used
    Using smaller portions of the original is fairer use, as is using portions that are not the ‘heart’ of the work.
  • The Potential Effect on the Market or Value of the Copyrighted Work
    If your use causes, or reasonably might cause, the original artist to lose money, it’s probably not fair use. This can have a lot to do with the public availability of the work. If it’s publically available online, then there’s very little reason for an artist to lose any money if it is reposted.

What Does this Mean for Students?

Students and educators are allowed a great deal of latitude on copyright FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. This means that if you are building a music video as a school project and you want use a popular, copyrighted song from your favorite artist, you can probably feel free to use the whole thing. On the other hand, sharing it online after the project is over probably isn’t OK because it goes beyond the actual scope of the assignment.

It’s always an excellent idea to give credit to the creator of the material you are borrowing, and it is helpful to have a web address if you found the material online. This ensures that anyone who sees your material doesn’t think you created it, which is another legal matter called plagiarism.

Information on this page comes from:

An Optional (and Excellent!) Video For More Information:

By Chris Lott, UAF Faculty and Tech Guru

Creative Commons License
Student Guide to Copyright by Paul Meritt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.