Copyright and Fair Use

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Framing question: Have you ever wondered about copyright issues in your own teaching? Have you (or educators you know) ever had conflicts about copyright issues? Five minute quickwrite. Pair & Share. Report out.

Copyright issues are frequently in the news. Washington Post article about school district that wants to copyright students work.

The Fair use Doctrine (section 107) of the Copyright Act of 1976 states that the use of copyrighted material “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” is not infringement.

In weighing the balance at the heart of fair use analysis, judges refer to four types of considerations mentioned in the law.

  • the purpose of the use

  • the nature of the copyrighted work

  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the original work

  • and the effect of the use on the market for the original


In recent years, legal scholars have found that courts return again and again to two questions in deciding if a particular use of a copyrighted work is a fair use

  • did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?

  • was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?


Apply these questions to these two examples:

1. Let’s say I want to teach the concept of understatement. One way to illustrate that is. In the past I’ve used this version of the Black Knight “just a flesh wound” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Now that I’ve learned Monty Python’s intent, I use the one from the Monty Python YouTube channel:

2. A math teacher wants to show an example of how math is a big part of popular culture, even in big budget movies. Contact “prime number” scene. Curriculum materials at

It could reasonably be argued that the benefit to society of the illustrative use of the prime number example outweighs the cost to the owners of the film.

Apply this thinking when considering using copyrighted material in your teaching.

One Trackback

  1. By Canadian Copyright Matters | Marcie Lewis on June 28, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    […] topic that has really pushed my thinking this week was our examination of copyright and fair use on Thursday. This is a topic that I feel many educators have had questions about or experiences with, but are […]

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