Copyright for Teachers: Persistent Myths

Disclaimer:  I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV.  My thinking has been shaped by a number of sources, mostly notably the Barely Legal Radio Podcast.

Our Rights

Fair Use allows us to use portions of copyrighted work for educational purposes in our classrooms.  I’m of the belief that you can interpret copyright laws extremely liberally if the work you’re creating starts and ends within your classroom walls and is for academic purposes.  The problem is very little of the good work starts and ends within your classroom walls.  As soon as you put your work on the internet you’re creating copies of copyrighted work and redistributing.  As soon as you invite an audience you may be causing a public performance.

Myth #1:  It’s Not A Copyright Infringement If We Don’t Charge For It?

Scenario:  A school wants to put on an established play (e.g. Annie) and not pay royalties.

Facts (as I see them):  Many schools believe that if they put on a performance for free or solicit donations instead of charging a fee that obsolves them of any copyright responsibility.  Unfortunately, this is not so.

Playwrights and play publishers make money through royalties including royalties paid by schools and educational institutions.  It would be okay to do a scene from Annie as part of an acting class (there’s no audience and you’re using it for academic purposes) but to put on the musical and perform it for an audience requires a fee to be paid to the publisher.

Not charging a fee reduces the amount of damages to the publishing company but there are statutory damages (damages designed to punish you for breaking the law) that have to paid if you are caught.

Publishing companies do take into account the amount of money you are making from the performance of the show when they calculate royalty payments.  A free show costs less in terms of royalties than a paid show.

Myth #2:  I Can Use 30 Seconds and Its Not Breaking the Law

Scenario:  A teacher wants to use 30 seconds of copyrighted music in a podcast and believes that it’s okay to use just 30 seconds freely.

Facts (as I see them):  The 30 second rule is bunk.

Can you imagine a judge counting to thirty to determine whether a particular use of music violates the law?  Just 5 seconds of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition might be too much where 30 seconds of some other song may not even make a dent.  It’s about how and why you’re using the music that makes a difference.

Generally using copyrighted music as a soundtrack to a movie is illegal without permission.  The only way you can legally use the music if you are somehow making a comment on the song.  Its far better to use royalty free music in your podcast projects.

Please leave your comments and questions.

Update:  Links

Fair Use Is Your Friend

Fair Use and Education

4 Responses to Copyright for Teachers: Persistent Myths

  1. Mathew,
    Thanks for clairifying the issue of fair use. Now, I have a better understanding about it.

  2. I think you should be grateful for the ambiguities of fair use in the US. In the UK, you can’t make a class set of photocopies of a page of a textbook, and that’s that. Doesn’t stop most people, of course…

  3. Hi! I am SO Sorry I left off your post from the Carnival yesterday but it has been corrected! For some reason I didn’t recieve an email about it. You can find it at:
    Pat http://successfulteaching.blogspot.com/2009/06/welcome-to-carnival-of-education-hiking.html

  4. Thanks for the refresher…and a huge thanks for the links regarding royalty free music.

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