Friday, June 22, 2007

Copyright in Distance Education

On October 4, 2002 Congress enacted the “Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act” (TEACH Act) which is applied to accredited nonprofit educational institutions with a published policy regarding teacher use of copyrighted material.

The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) helps corporations, universities, law firms and government agencies to use and share published content. The Electronic Course Content Service (ECCS) initiated by CCC provides rapid clearance for electronic coursepacks and reserves. Many periodical publications are available online in HTML or PDF format. ERIC has many full-text articles available for free. However, if instructors want to post on their websites magazine articles, excerpts from books, film clips, recorded music, and artwork, they have to obtain permission from authors or publishers. Only work published before 1923 and developed by or for state agencies, including audiovisual material, may be declared public domain and can be used without any permission.

Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material for nonprofit educational purposes without requiring permission from the rights holders. Fair use allows quoting a few lines from a popular song or poetry in a review paper or summarizing and quoting from an article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson. Although the law does not provide specific limits or percentage, according to Stanford Copyright and Fair Use policies, it can be considered fair use if no more “than 1% of Wright's unpublished letters were copied and the purpose was informational." Stanford University’s site provides many examples of fair and not a fair use.

Video is an important part in distance education and the TEACH Act provides guidelines and requires that videotape or DVD should be "lawfully acquired" -- purchased or rented to be used for the instructional purposes. If instructors obtained video footage by recording on their home VCR, the program may be displayed to students only once in each class only within 10 consecutive working days following the date of taping. The tape should be erased in 45-day period.

Photographs and Digital Images
According to the Guidelines for Classroom Copying, educators may use one picture per book or periodical issue in classroom. A Conference on Fair Use (CONFU) has the following guidelines for fair use:
  • Only lawfully acquired analog images may be digitized.
  • The images can be displayed only on a secure electronic network.
  • If the rights holder is unknown, the images may be used for 3 years.
  • The images may not be used in publications without permission (Simonson, et al., p.310).


CONFU guidelines have been considered very restrictive by many educational institutions:

  • No more than 10 percent or 3 minutes, whichever is less, of video or film may be used for instructional purposes.
  • No more than 10 percent or 1, 000 words, whichever is less, may be used of text material in multimedia presentations.
  • No more than 10 percent or 30 seconds, whichever is less, of the music or lyrics from an individual musical work may be used.
  • No more than five photographs or illustrations by a single artist or photographer may be used (Simonson, et al., p.311).

Based on these guidelines, most of my student work is infringement of copyright laws. I ask my students to create music in GarageBand or use free sound loops for their movies and animations, but sometimes students want to use the popular songs which they purchased and have on their iPods or on CDs. According to fair use, students can't use more than 30 seconds of the copyrighted song. What about movies on YouTube? Many movies use popular songs and don't have any obtained permission from the rights holder.

Obtaining Permission
It is better to obtain a written permission for copyrighted material. Provide the rights holder with your name, position, contact information, describe clearly how material would be used and request a written permission.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., Zvacek, S. (2006). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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