Is that Dark Slate, Charcoal, or Just Gray?

Academic libraries, Copyright, Fair Use

The semester has just barely started, and already we are faced with a Copyright Conundrum.

That sounds rawther grand, but I have a sneaking suspicion that anything that involves copyright is a conundrum.

Here’s the issue: I work at a public college. The department that handles professional development would like to show a movie to faculty. Because of time considerations, they will not show the entire piece, just selected segments.

Public institution, educational purpose, check.

Fair use? Well, if they create a shortened version of the DVD to streamline the showing of selected segments, it could be considered a derivative work?

Darn. With a little help from a librarian that gets to play with copyright all the time, I found scads of information on copyright limitations on showing moving images at a public academic institution. Stanford has a lovely website on copyright and fair use, with a section for Academic and Educational uses of copyrighted material. Cornell has a book called Copyright and Cultural Institutions, and the University of Texas has put together fair use guidelines for educational multimedia.

All of these were excellent sources, easy to navigate and, considering the complexity of what they set out to describe, quite readable. Unfortunately, none of them offered suggestions on what to do when you have a movie you want to show to faculty, not students, in a modified form, but not store or distribute after the showing.

My next thought was to try original sources, like the mysteriously named Circular 21 (The full title kills the mystique–Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted works by Educators and Librarians). I event found the link to U.S. Code Title 17: Copyrights on Cornell’s Legal Information Institute website.

But none of the original sources offered much in the way of concrete assistance either. The entire group of us looked at the resources, and what they had to say about where our project fell in the murk of fair use, and decided that it was all far too gray. And so, armed with many resources that outline just how we might (or might not) be covered by fair use guidelines, we are contacting the copyright holder.

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