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Fair Use Scenario: Broadcasting Obama

In a continuing series of scenarios that explore educational fair use issues.

Cheryl, the school media specialist, is concerned about the legality of recording the presidential inauguration and then using her school's closed circuit broadcast system to show it to the entire school (at the request of some of her teachers). Cheryl's school is in a time zone which makes it impractical to get up early enough to watch the inauguration live.

In trying to research such a use, she found a comment saying that anything broadcast over the closed circuit system is considered to be a public performance. One of her teachers who used to work at a TV station thought that one could rebroadcast the news. Cheryl checked C-Span's copyright rules and did not find any specific reference to using their programs on closed circuit. She wrote the network for permission but received no response.

  1. What is the copyrighted material? Who owns it?
  2. Does the use of the work fall under fair use guidelines? Is the use transformational in nature? Can this be considered "educational" use?
  3. What is your level of comfort helping with this event? Are there any changes or limits you might like to see that would make you more comfortable?

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

You comments are most welcome.

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Reader Comments (10)

Easy one, if you're using C-SPAN!

I would furthermore personally argue that there's a strong fair use argument involved beyond C-SPAN's allowances, but those terms should allow such non-commercial use anyway.

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos Ovalle

There's actually two pieces to this situation. One is the recording of the event and playing it back later, while the second is playing it back for an audience.

The first is pretty simple and straightforward. Several court cases in the early days of home video specifically permitted the recording of over the air broadcasts for the purpose of "time shifting" which is what's happening here. This is what made Betamax legal in the first place.

The second, showing the recording over a school closed-circuit system, is a little more complicated. However, I believe it was also determined at another time and place that this kind of presentation (a teacher playing a recording of a news event to students for instructional purposes) was not a "public performance" as defined under copyright law because the audience was not actually "the public".

My level of comfort with this use is very high.

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim

I think that this scenario falls well within the bounds of what is intended by the fair use guidelines. I wouldn't consider it transformational and I don't see a how the closed-circuit broadcast would automatically make it a public performance. Would projecting it on one screen in the auditorium keep it from being a public performance? There is no doubt that it is absolutely educational. I would have no problem doing this at my school. But maybe that's just because my name is Cheryl and I am a school media specialist....

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCMartin21

Take the school to Starbucks or local movie theatre where they can watch MSNBC's coverage and get a snack too.

January 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGar Stager

Thanks, Carlos. That link seems to clear to me!


Hi Tim and Cheryl,

Yeah, I was a little surprised there was any doubt that is was inappropriate. A good example of “hyper-compliance,” I think.


Sarcasm becomes you, Mr. Stager.


January 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

High comfort with use in this scenario. The government belongs to the people. The peaceful transfer of power is the bedrock of our democratic system, and witnessing this transfer is the duty of an informed electorate. I'll be broadcasting in the library!

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Cicchetti

Hi Robin,

I hope your day went well. I was very moved by the whole event. I think the consensus is that Cheryl is good to go – taping and broadcasting.

Thanks for your comment!


January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I would be highly comfortable with allowing the viewing of this inauguration in a school. By looking at the link provided above from C-SPAN's site, it can be seen that C-SPAN clearly states that any footage of government functions (Congress, Inauguration) is public domain and can be used by the public without any copyright worries. As long as the C-SPAN logo is shown, the re-broadcast seems perfectly legal to me. Also, the inauguration can definitely be put in the category of an educational broadcast as the students can learn valuable facts about the presidency and the inauguration process. For this reason I would definitely allow the broadcast of this in my school.

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Hendrikse

We believe that because its purpose was for the school and the students, if it is instructional, and if it is shown before the legal 10 days are over, then it doesn't violate fair use and it is okay to be shown at the school.

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBLMK

We believe that if the school shows it within 10 days and it is instructional then the school is not breaking any copyright laws and it is perfectly legal.

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTrinity Christian students

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