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Information in this page was reviewed and approved by legal counsel. Please see disclaimer. Review date: January 2009 .

Answers to Hypothetical Questions

The following hypothetical questions were posed in an email sent 8/23/07 from Veronica Makowsky (Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education) to faculty regarding copyright and teaching. The questions and responses were provided by members of the library's Copyright Team. Information in this page has NOT been reviewed by legal counsel. Please see disclaimer.

The Questions

Which of the following uses of copyrighted materials is permissible?

1. You’re teaching a class on modern adaptations of fairy tales and you plan to bring your own DVD of Disney’s Snow White to show in class.

2. You’re going to give every member of your philosophy seminar a photocopy of a single page copied from a library copy of Plato’s Republic.

3. You want to upload iTunes (that you legally purchased) to your HuskyCT (Vista) account, and also burn them to a CD for placement on reserve in the library.

4. You want to post a series of images you found on the web into your class’s HuskyCT (Vista) page.

5. For a discussion of the “politics of rap music,” you’re going to play a series of songs to your class-all of which are stored on your iPod.

Responses

Which of the following uses of copyrighted materials is permissible?

1. You’re teaching a class on modern adaptations of fairy tales and you plan to bring your own DVD of Disney’s Snow White to show in class.

This is permissible, if you follow certain guidelines. Because you legally own the copy (the following also applies to DVDs/videotapes you borrow from the library or rent), you are allowed to show it, so long as it’s being shown in a “face-to-face” classroom situation (or online equivalent) for educational (not entertainment) purposes.

You lose the right to show a film in class, even if you own it, once you cross the line from teaching to entertaining, or if you invite others who are not enrolled in or teaching the course. (In other words, showing Snow White “just for fun” in an applied physics class would count as entertainment.) You do have some rights to show the video to an assembled class (or online equivalent) over a broadcast or Internet connection, but you lose the right to do this if certain legal provisions are not followed, the video is made available to those outside of class, or if it’s not the “distance education” equivalent of “face-to-face instruction.” For more information, see Videorecordings & Copyright and Distance Education & Copyright.

2. You’re going to give every member of your philosophy seminar a photocopy of a single page copied from a library copy of Plato’s Republic.

This is probably permissible under the fair use exception in U.S. copyright law—but watch out for pitfalls. A determination of fair use is made by considering and balancing four factors: the intended use of the reproduction, nature of the work, amount to be reproduced, and market impact. In many circumstances, one page from any version of Plato for use in a classroom would probably meet a determination of fair use.

So where are the pitfalls? Well, Plato’s an interesting case. Plato’s works (in their original Greek) are all in the public domain—which means you could legally print out the entire Republic (in Greek), make numerous copies, and pass them out to your students. The snag is…most students don’t read ancient Greek…and it’s the translation of Plato that’s going to be copyrighted. Having said that, there are older translations of Plato that are in the public domain—see, for instance, a downloadable older edition at Project Gutenberg. If you’re copying a page from the latest and greatest translation of The Republic, you’re using a copyrighted translation or supporting text. In this case, you’re still probably in the clear; however, if what you’re copying is considered to be the “heart” of the work, you might not be. It all depends on how much you’re copying and the nature of what is being copied. Repeated use over several years could also affect that fourth factor (“market impact”) if there is in fact a way to reasonably pay for those portions.

To learn more, and for common classroom scenarios, see Classroom Handouts. Also try using some fair-use analysis tools. (Something else to consider: you may be able to link to some material online and let students make their own fair-use reproductions for study purposes.)

3. You want to upload iTunes (that you legally purchased) to your HuskyCT (Vista) account, and also burn them to a CD for placement on reserve in the library.

You probably cannot do this. iTunes are available to you under the provisions of a contract or license agreement. Such agreements may differ from, and often take precedence over, what is allowed under copyright law. The iTunes Terms of Service specify personal, noncommercial use. You are allowed to export, burn (if applicable), or copy iTunes for personal use only, as an accommodation to you (assuming your personal use does not infringe on the copyright owners’ rights). The agreement also says you may not modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute, or create derivative works based on the iTunes service. Thus, it would seem that you (and the library) cannot loan or distribute iTunes via HuskyCT/Vista or traditional reserve. In essence, you’ve signed away your rights to a fair-use defense (under U.S. copyright law) for these items.

Need some options? See if the library’s audio service Naxos Music Library has appropriate classical, jazz, or world music selections. Alternatively, you or the library could order the CD and make selected tracks (following a reasonable determination of fair use) available to your class in HuskyCT through the library’s Digital Audio Reserve service. You might be able to link to selections in Free Napster (available tracks can be streamed in their entirety for a limited number of times). Finally, you might be able to legally purchase music online that is not subject to such strict licensing terms.

4. You want to post a series of images you found on the web into your class’s HuskyCT (Vista) page.

This depends. U.S. copyright law applies to content on the Internet, just as it does to content in the physical world. With copyrighted works, without seeking permission from the owner, you may be possibly liable for copyright infringement under United States federal copyright law. But first check out your other options. Do any of the items fall into public domain? Perhaps the copyright owner has already indicated permission in the web site (e.g., at a clip-art site) or is using a Creative Commons license to grant others the right to use the images. Also, as an alternative, you are well within your rights to link to images, text, or other content on the Web.

You can try to apply a fair-use determination, but it’s harder since you generally need to reproduce an entire image, and art is often considered to be “entertainment.” Here’s a general fair-use analysis, but without knowing the particulars (and every situation is different!) we can’t give a definitive answer. The intended use (here) is for instruction via a restricted-access course web site, and if the students’ use is for study, criticism, analysis, or transformative use, rather than entertainment, decoration, or commercial profit, then collectively this might weigh toward fair use. The nature of the item is probably both factual and artistic in this context, so weighs neither toward nor against fair use (we need more information). The item is to be reproduced in its entirety, but usually that is the amount needed to reach the teaching objective (so weighs neither toward nor against fair use). If the number of images from a given source is significant, that amount may weigh against fair use. If no reasonable licensing or sales mechanism is available, the market will likely be unimpacted, and may even benefit; this could favor a fair-use determination. The fact that materials are on a restricted-access course web site (ideally with course policies barring further non-fair-use redistribution or use of materials) might also weigh in favor of fair use (it affects the amount reproduced and market impact). For more information, see Understanding Fair Use, Fair-Use Analysis Tools, and Images & Copyright.

5. For a discussion of the “politics of rap music,” you’re going to play a series of songs to your class-all of which are stored on your iPod.

You may play audio in your class without obtaining permission, if the use meets the following three conditions: 1) it is for instructional purposes, 2) in a face-to-face teaching environment (see more about distance education settings below), and 3) at a non-profit educational institution. As long as the music files stored on the iPod were lawfully made or acquired (see more below on this), you are free to play them for your students. See 17 USC 110.

For distance education settings, as with the Snow White DVD question, you do have some rights to play the recordings to an assembled class (or online equivalent) over a broadcast or Internet connection, but you lose the right if certain legal provisions are not followed. See more at Distance Education & Copyright.

Note: if some of the selections are from fee-based services (e.g., iTunes) that specify appropriate uses, you’ll probably need to consult the “Terms of Service.” (See more about this in question #3.)

Related Topics:

Teaching & Copyright
Includes practical guidance for common situations, as well as links to scenarios.

Distance Education & Copyright -- Discusses the types of materials that can be transmitted digitally to support distance education and courses with a digital component.

Understanding Fair Use and Fair-Use Analysis Tools

Public Domain -- How to know if something is in public domain

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