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EdTech Update




« C.R.A.P. and other reasons why teachers grow cynical | Main | Reflections on reflecting »

Fair use scenario: Doug's digitizing strategy

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

Doug's district is planning to purchase V-Brick or a similar video digitalization system. The media and technology department would like to digitize as much of the district's current video and DVD collection as possible and give teachers access to the materials via the computer network rather than have to schedule and circulate physical media. He is considering this strategy in dealing with copyright issues:

  • The staff will digitize titles only as they are requested.
  • At the time the media is digitized, Doug will write the producer/distributors informing them of this project, carefully explaining that the use would be within our district only. He will ask that they respond only if they do NOT grant permission to do this.
  • If the district is denied permission, it will destroy the digital copy, but they will not remove a title if they do not hear back.
  • The district will keep a record of all correspondence.
Given the amount of published information that is in the "gray zone" - no contactable ownership but not out of copyright, Doug considers this to be the only practical means of going about the task.
  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)

In my opinion, any step that involves asking permission is completely insane and a waste of time. If it is educational, non-profit, limited to your school, you already paid for the content once, and they don't provide you a way to pay them for the use you need just do it.

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

I'm gonna follow Tom's lead here by agreeing that writing for permission is a waste of time. If a district is digitizing purchased material I think the key would be to limit the use of the digital copy exactly like you would the physical media. Therefore, if the school or district only owned 1 physical media then the digital copy could only be used by one person at a time but if the school owned two copies, then two people could use it simultaneously. Additionally, the physical media would need to be archived and not used at all (unless of course the digital copy was not being used at the same time).

From what I understand, copyright laws allow you to change the format of a media type as long as it's not distributed beyond the limitations of the original media format (VHS tape, DVD, etc.).

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian B

Brian B. is wrong: you cannot change the format of a media type and still be in copyright compliance unless it is for preservation use only OR if the original media format is "dead".

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLazygal

Lazygal - please tell me you aren't citing UCLA's copyright policy as law. The source you provide covers what the UCLA library will and will not do to add information to the library collection - it's not the law (even though they cite the law several times to reinforce the policy). Even the RIAA (shocker!!) says that copying music from a legally purchased compact disc to your hard drive is legal as long as its not for commercial use (

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian B.

Hi Tom,

You are a dangerous influence. I find myself in greater agreement with you all the time!


Hi Brian,

I agree with you. There does not seem to be a financial loss to the producer of such videos if the guidelines you suggest are followed. Thanks for this comment and the reply to Lazy gal.

All the best,


Hi Lazy,

If you haven't done so, go back a read Brian's response to your post.

I do think there is:

Great confusion about what is in the law and what are just guidelines.
Changes that need to happen because of technology changes/
A need for a practical, user-centric set of guidelines that follow moral dictates as well as legal ones.

I appreciate your perspective, though.


May 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Did anyone find a specific copyright law that covers this issue?

January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Hi Kathy,

I've not seen anything. It's not just copyright statute, but case law that one should have before deciding whether to do this.


February 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

He does not need to ask for permission because it is all being used for educational purposes. But he does need to make sure that once he changes the format of the videos, he must destroy the original copy. Not only that but it is unclear if the videos he's using are paod for, if not he should make sure he only keeps them for the amount of time necessary for the lesson.

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I agree with Brian and Tom in that it is a waste of time. I think the only issue I would have is if he owned the media or paid for it. Good insights and good scenario!

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGroup 404

The entire purpose of the listed materials was for instructional purposes. Since the materials were already paid for prior, it should be acceptable to make these available to all teachers at all times. It does not appear that Doug is breaking any laws due to the fact that he is just moving the information, rather than copying it and making it available to the public. Especially, since Doug is only allowing distribution to his school district.

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim/Ben/Brittany

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