FAQs: Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

<General >

Q: What is Public domain?
A: Works that were copyrighted prior to 1922

Q: How do you get reported for copyright infringement?
A: Anyone can report you a school employee, visitor, parent, etc.

< Video >

Q: Can I show a movie or video clip in my classroom?
A: Sure as long as it is tied directly to your lesson plan for that particular day it falls within the fair use guidelines. Be sure not to show a movie as a reward.

Q: What is a blanket permission for videos? How do I know if my school has one?
A: You should check with your media specialist or librarian at your school to find out what copyright laws are protected from. These blanket permissions usually only cover certain production companies. Don't assume the video in question is automatically covered.

Q: What if the video says "Private Home Use Only" on the VHS tape or DVD can I still use it in my classroom?
A: As long as you use the video for instruction to supplement your lesson you can use the video within fair use guidelines.

Q: Digitizing movies- is it legal to borrow a video tape from a library and run it through a digitizer and load it into your computer to play on the projector?
A: No, this is not legal. Doing this would be making an illegal copy and an adaptation, which violates two rights of the copyright holder.

Q: Can I make a copy of a VHS onto a DVD in case teachers need a different version?
A: No, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows a library to make a format transfer only when the original format is no longer available. VHS is not obsolete yet, you cannot make a backup just to have two different formats.

Q: Our library owns a 1986 videotape that is deteriorating rapidly since it is used multiple times a year. We have searched everywhere and cannot find a replacement. The production company no longer exists. Is it legal to make a DVD copy of this VHS so teachers can continue to use this in their classrooms?
A: Yes, the rule on library archival copiers would let you make a digital copy (up to 3 copies) of a deteriorating work. However, the copy cannot leave the library, so maybe students could watch the video in the library.

< Print Materials >

Q: Can I copy from a textbook so that students can write on the page?
A: Assuming each student has a textbook, and you aren't trying to avoid buying another textbook this is probably fair use. As long as this is a one-time thing, fair use does not allow the item to be repeatedly copied without permission.

Q: Can I copy a graphic from a book then pass out copies?
A: Distribution, First Sale Doctrine

Q: What if I run out of workbooks? Can I copy a page for a student?
A: There is a prohibition on copying consumables. You can let the students share a workbook then write on their own paper instead.

Q: Copying Music Lyrics- A teacher wants to make copies of the lyrics of a song for students to read as they listen to the song they are studying. The students will then use the lyrics for a reflective activity and relate them to the theme of a book. Is this within Fair Use guidelines?
A: Under the print guidelines you would treat the lyrics as poetry, so the teacher can only copy these lyrics ONE TIME. If you make a poster or transparency you can use it as many times as you wish. Multimedia guidelines (such as PowerPoint) are also a little less strict on poetry.

< Multimedia (PowerPoint, Movie Maker, Photostory, etc.) >

Q: If I download 10% or 30 seconds of an audio to insert into Movie Maker, can I use that same 30 seconds as a loop over and over throughout the project?
A: The guidelines have been met by the audio percentage or time, fair use does not prohibit looping.

Q: Screenshots- Can I use screenshots to enhance faculty members' understanding of a new software manual?
A: If the use is going to be fairly limited, then this should fall within fair use.

< Computer Software >

Q: Can I load my software program (CD-Rom) on another teacher's computer?
A: No, you can make a back-up copy for yourself, but the software is meant to only be loaded onto one computer.

Q:What is Turnitin.com or similar websites? How can I use this as a teacher?
A: You can take a portion of your student's paper or presentation and enter it into this online database and it will tell you if your student has committed plagiarism.

Q: Digital Media (mp3)- Does it violate copyright laws for a student to have mp3 files saved on their personal space on the school server?
A: Answer: As long as the students are not sharing files to avoid purchasing music they should be fine. If the school district frowns upon music files on their server, it may be best for students to store mp3 files on a flash drive so the district does not have to be involved.

Q: A senior class wants to play two songs during their graduation ceremony. The graduation will take place in the school gymnasium. Are copyright issues involved?

Q: Where can I find free or inexpensive music for podcasts or other multimedia presentations?
A: www.garageband.com
A: http://magnatune.com
A: http://music.podshow.com/
A: Or use the create music in Photostory rather than download copyrighted music

Q: Is it legal to play a complete popular song and have it tied to a lesson, or is it still limited to 30 seconds.
A: The 30 seconds rule is for multimedia presentations only (such as PowerPoint, etc)
A: You can play the whole song form CD or mp3 if you are using it for instruction.

Q: I am training students to use cameras and video edited software to make a daily presentation of announcements for the school. Would it be fair use to use a few seconds of music from CDs I own?
A: The main problem is the legality issue of fair use. This is not face-to-face instruction it is a public performance when it is broadcasted to the entire school. So this would not be considered fair use.

Q: Can I play streaming radio on the internet such as Pandora for my classroom for background music?
A: Not without a license. This is considered a public performance and the website is only meant for one person to listen at a time. Some businesses tried to use this as Muzak and lost their case in court.

<Pictures/ Graphics >

Q: Can I scan book covers and post them to my web site?
A: You can copy one graphic from a book and retain that copy for teaching purposes. However, you cannot redistribute that copy to the world. So no, this is not fair use.

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace legal advice. For more information please consult your school system's attorney.


  • Topics from past issues of "Copyright Questions of the Month" by Carol Simpson in LibraryMedia Connection (LMC).
  • Faculty members of Auburn City Schools
  • Faculty members of Auburn University in the Educational Media Department.
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