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Copyright Section 107: Fair Use

Written by Joseph Conroy
October 29, 2010

Although I knew that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution asserts our right to “Promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts,” I was still challenged by the question of whether my students’ use of copyrighted material to create their digital compositions was considered a useful art, or whether my students’ class assignments could be considered some of the intellectual progress the Constitution sought to protect. How could the writers of the Constitution know anything about my students’ needs to access and utilize digital media?

Further clarification is provided through the Copyright Act of 1976, Section 107 limits the exclusive rights of copyright owners for intellectual property to be analyzed, criticized, researched, commented, taught, or reported upon. This exemption is otherwise known as fair use. There are four factors that determine copyright infringement versus fair use:

  1. the commercial or educational purposes,
  2. nature of the copyrighted material,
  3. amount used compared to the whole, and
  4. the impact upon the profitability of the work.

Context is everything when determining fair use. For example, my students’ digital stories were for a non-commercial and educational purpose. The images pulled from the Internet were inserted into the movies in brief snippets. I hadn’t planned for my students’ movies to be displayed beyond our classroom, and therefore the use of those images would not compete against any profit potential of the original copyright holders. By observing fair use guidelines, my students were able to legally re-purpose copyrighted media for their own digital compositions.

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