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Fair Use Scenarios - Lucy's History Day Project

In a continuing series of scenarios that explore educational fair use issues. You comments are most welcome.

Lucy's History Day project explores how wars influence popular culture with a focus on music in the 20th century. She is creating a Ken Burns-like video that combines photographic images of wars and commercial recordings of popular music from each war's years, along with narration of her own observations and conclusions. This tape will be shown to the public during the History Day event and be placed on YouTube for others to view and use. HIstory Day participation is extra credit in Lucy's school.

  1. What are the copyrighted materials? Who owns them?
  2. Does the use of the works fall under fair use guidelines? Is the use transformational in nature? Can this be considered "educational" use?
  3. What is your level of comfort in helping create such a product? Are there any changes or limits you might like to see that would make you more comfortable with this project?

Your level of comfort with this use of copyrighted materials: High 5 4 3 2 1 Low

You comments are most welcome.

Image from the Life Photo Archives via Google Images.

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Reader Comments (15)

I think this is the kind of thing that we should be allowing under fair use. Also, one thing you might consider in your questions, or address in general, is what might happen if one of the authors felt she had exceeded fair use. In this case, they'd send a takedown notice to YouTube, who would take it down. I think she could then appeal that to YouTube.

But basically, one thing that I think it is important to keep in context is what's the worst case scenario for going to far if you're genuinely trying to exercise educational fair use. YouTube probably gets thousands of DMCA takedown requests a day. Nobody is really held liable or punished. It isn't a big deal.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Sounds fair. Assuming it's around 4 or 5 minutes, then she would only be using snippets of songs anyway. Most of the photos would come from library of congress type creative commons/public domain places anyway. That, I think, is the key to your scenarios. We, as educators, can teach ethical use along with the content. We can teach Lucy to look for stock photos and public domain images first. Since popular music of the day is still copyrighted, we can teach her how to use portions of it and how to give proper credit.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

I have helped students to create NHD documentaries; I am perfectly comfortable allowing and assisting them in doing so. The media (video, music, photos, etc.) does not always come from the public domain or loc -- but they should be able to use it nonetheless under Fair Use. I require them to have a bibliography list at the end of the credits --that seems like enough in this case. They are just kids making a school project -- learning the subject and the technology in the process. What's the harm in that?

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDana

I agree that under Fair Use, they are probably okay. However, I have a related question. What happens when that student goes home and uses the same sites and same mentality to create content that is not educational in nature and shares it online? Have we done a disservice to that student by not teaching them how to find appropriate content, through Creative Commons, for example?

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdzukor

Over the examples that you have given, I would suggest comments point out confusion about Fair Use. It almost appears as if people are drawing the conclusion that educational use = Fair Use; which is incorrect.

Another theme that is presented is the "no harm, no foul" argument (for those of us who like pick-up basketball games). It tends to be the same self-justifying response I would give to exceeding the speed limit by 5 miles per hour - no harm, what is the big deal.

I do know this, copyright law is hugely complex - way too complicated for most people to analyze and apply to most situations (the Youtube example is a good one - who knows how that plays out?).

The interesting conversation that seems to be happening less and less in schools is that around the "big ideals" of why copyright exists, what beliefs we share about it (or do not share about it).

(Devil's advocate) If I am a teacher and I really do not care a great deal about the ideal; do you seriously think I care about how it applies in my classroom (or that I will actually follow any rules when you aren't watching)?

That is the item that concerns me a great deal.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

It sounds like it would be OK. I think as long as cite everything.

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjas0025


What started this series is this report -- -- which argues persuasively against your point of view.

November 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman


I am unsure how the link and materials argues against my point of view...?

I believe (and may have stated poorly)...
Education Use <> Fair Use
(ie I cannot copy an entire book just because I want to use it in my classroom)
That people are generally confused about Fair Use
That people tend to self-justify the means by using the ends (it is OK as nobody got hurt)
(happens a lot in society today as we have tended to become more of a "What is in it for me" people)
and my last point (which might have been a really bad example) was that I do not think that some people really care much any more about the ideal about why copyright should be an important conversation about values.

To the last item, we seem to have minimalized the conversation around "how much of a song" or "how many pages" rather than really talk about, "what is the right way for me to approach this".

Is there something specific within the materials you linked to that contradicted what I was thinking? (and I am trying to ask that in a serious manner - not meaning to be argumentative).

November 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

This makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I would probably be okay with it. It is educational in nature. I'd steer student to public domain/ creative commons images and songs. I have found public domain images meet with student approval much more often than public domain songs. Which brings me to my slight unease, because of the music. How much is a portion? Will this really ever affect the market? Is this really transformative? In school, I have no problem with it. My unease comes in posting on Youtube.

November 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Tracy

Hi All,

Thanks. This has been one of the more interesting sets of reactions to a scenario. I agree with many of you that think we have some bigger ethical issues to deal with here.

I appreciate the disagreement between Tom and Joel. I keep reminding myself is that Fair Use is really about finding a level of comfort with the use of copyrighted materials. Can Tom and Joel both be right, each according to his level of comfort?


November 22, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

How different is this from the projects students completed during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s that involved cutting and gluing other people's photos and text out of magazines and newspapers to make a collage or poster that would be placed on display?

If they copied material out of a book or an article for a paper and if didn't give credit for their sources we accuse them of plagiarism. But if they give the original (source) works credit to their creators, to me, even if it is on YouTube, then it is not any different than a research paper where most of the content consists of quotes and citations.

November 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Lustig

Hi John,

Lessig makes this point in his book Remix as well. Why do we treat multimedia so much differently in terms of quoting, using and building upon than we do print.

Great point,


November 25, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

We found the work both transformational and educational. It should fall under fair use guidlines. The students must remember to give credit or attribution and use as much of the music as necessary and not the entire work. The student should be able to place on You Tube, however, we are cautious.

January 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGroup 4

Totally fine to do this project. Cite all sources as material is presented or credit page at the end of the Ken Burns like video.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn and Michelle

I find Lucy to be in violation of of copyright laws because she is using photos what are copyrighted and music that she did not purchase for a project that will be displayed in public setting outside of her classroom setting and will be posted on youtube as her own work. Lucy does not own the materials and it does not fall under educational use because she is using it in a public setting not a classroom setting. My comfort level with this issue is a 2 or 3. If Lucy did not make this project public I would feel more comfortable with the issue.

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrinity Pod

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