Ask Me Anything, Fair Use edition

“‘Is that Fair Use?’: Copyright in Schools, Conferences, and Publications” with librarian Alyssa Mandel and editorial operations specialist Erin Ryan, on March 8 at 4:00 PM Eastern/1:00 PM Pacific.

This is an Ask Me Anything, as the kids say, approach to copyright and fair use. Well, not me exactly. On March 8, I will be co-presenting a webinar with Erin Ryan, whose position as editorial operations specialist for ABC-CLIO (publisher of School Library Connection, among other things) includes permission acquisition, on the subject of copyright and fair use specifically geared for situations in which librarians may find themselves. It will also be a great source of help for you to use when working with faculty and students, too.  As a member of the AISL Publications Committee, I have been fortunate enough to have published three articles in School Library Connection and have another forthcoming in April. The committee helps AISL members find publication opportunities individually or as groups and identifies trends in the professional literature that merit our attention. Headed by Cathy Leverkus (, the Committee also includes:

  • Darla Magana:
  • Debbie Abilock:
  • Tasha Bergson-Michelson:
  • Nora Murphy: NMurphy@fsha@org
  • Christina Karvounis:
  • Sara Kelley-Mudie:

My charge to you  is to leave in the comments either direct questions you may have, or real-life examples in which issues of fair use and copyright have played a major part. I recognize that can be sticky – you may not want to directly identify elements that could open you or your institution up to negative attention, but if there is something you can share for the sake of illumination, please do so. Erin and I will be using these examples to help guide our webinar and make it as targeted as possible so it serves the greater good. 

I’ll go first! The upcoming webinar grew out of a learning experience I had when I presented a webinar in October of 2020 about incorporating art research into library skills curriculum. I created a slide presentation to illustrate my webinar: I captured screenshots of museum websites and found images of paintings and sculptures that were clearly marked as being in the public domain, and thought I was home free. Readers, I was not. The artwork itself may be in the public domain, and we were careful to give a credit line for each work based on the museums’ own guidelines, but it turns out that the explanatory text accompanying the art is copyrighted, and even though the museum websites themselves are clearly meant for free public consumption, the museums have a vested interest in ensuring the sites are presented in a positive light. Furthermore, although I was giving the webinar as a form of education its sponsor is a commercial press. What I learned from that experience is that the rules for fair use and copyright are completely different under those circumstances. Erin gave me expert guidance and opened my eyes in such a way that I exclaimed at the time I think I learned more as a presenter than I might have taught to attendees, and thus was born the upcoming webinar on copyright and fair use for librarians.

By now you may be thinking, “Uh, we already went through this – as the pandemic took root we all started navigating whether we can and cannot share read-alouds over Zoom and on YouTube; we know the Internet Archive is a wilderness; we’re only presenting stuff in the classroom only or behind the wall of our learning management systems, so what’s the fuss?”

Not so fast, y’all. 

Just this week I was presented with several scenarios in which the guidance of someone like Erin would have been invaluable. Try these on and see if they sound familiar:

•Our middle school students are recording podcasts for the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. Right now, those podcasts are within school confines only, and they are being created under educational auspices. However, should one or more of our students be among the lucky winners, their work would then be shared with a wider audience. Any music, sounds, or other elements created by someone other than the students would be subject to copyright laws. The official rules spell this out on the website:

 “Entries will be disqualified if they contain materials that appear to infringe copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights of others. Songs or chants made up by Entrants are acceptable as long as they are performed live on the recording and Entrant notes in Entrant’s submission form that the song/chant was composed by Entrant. By submitting an entry, you affirm that you own all the rights to any and all musical content in your submission, including but not limited to: the right to reproduce, distribute, and publicly perform.”

•A librarian friend at another school asked about whether music played in schools needs to be (or could be) licensed in the same way that Swank licenses movies for situations like on-campus movie nights that are more social than educational. Friend specifically asked about music used in dance classes and played in classrooms. The information I found suggests only music played in public places like a reception area would need to be licensed, but I am asking for Erin’s help in addressing this during the webinar.

•Recently I gave a presentation to members of a branch of the local county government about public research databases available to residents of the state of Florida. One member asked if I knew of any sources for things like bird calls and video clips of nature. I said I would look around, and then went on to say that I wasn’t sure how copyright and fair use would affect them. They’re a branch of government, and definitely a not-for-profit, but if they charge a fee to cover materials in a public program they sponsor, or use an image in an advertisement, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as one might imagine. 

•Many of us have given, or plan to give, presentations or poster sessions at conferences. Such presentations are usually illustrated by some kind of accompanying image – a full slide presentation, or even a single drawing or short passage of text. A conference clearly seems to be an educational setting, but if the conference charges an attendance fee or the presenter receives an honorarium for his or her time, then the fair use waters become more murky. 

So drop your comments, questions, and observations below, and join Erin and me on March 8 for the lowdown on what is covered, what is not, and how to find out more information to help us all navigate this more clearly as professionals. Your students, faculty, and administrators look to you for guidance on these questions, so here’s a way to be better-prepared with answers.

11 thoughts on “Ask Me Anything, Fair Use edition

  1. If a movie ties into the curriculum and is being shown in-person, is it okay that it was purchased through Amazon (not streaming through Prime)?

  2. Can purchased materials from another country be scanned and shared only with one’s school community inside the password protected area of the school’s website? This pertains to acquiring and using texts for learning a second language. (This question is pandemic related, but may become a more long term issue as students with underlying health issues may have to remain virtual students longer term etc.)

  3. An anecdote – My brother owns a bar and was hosting a monthly record night where customers could bring in their vinyl to play while hanging out the in the bar. Recently he received a phone call from a record company telling him he had to put an end to this event because he was violating copyright by playing records while selling beer, profiting from the music. Doh!

  4. Previously teachers have asked me about assembling a “course packet” for their students, in lieu of using a textbook. That conversation didn’t go anywhere, but I suspect it will come up again. We’re considering creating something similar for our faculty summer read (compiling articles and other materials rather than reading a book). I haven’t looked too much into copyright considerations, but I know there are plenty, and would love guidance on what I should be thinking about (and any guidance on seeking copyright clearances!).

  5. adding to the comment from Alissa Cornelius, can movies for class bought via amazon (not rented or from prime) be streamed from a teacher? My understanding is DVDs are ok, but what about if you just buy the digital copy and intend to show it over zoom?

  6. I asked this on the AISL listserv, but can films that are no longer available for purchase be digitized to be shown in the classroom? We have a VHS copy of a particular film, and the school no longer has any VHS players. The streaming version is available through Alexander Street for $499 — perpetual access, but that is only “perpetual” if Alexander stays in business forever and never changes its licensing models.

  7. Might you know of any streaming services for music (similar to Swank Streaming for movies) that could be used in movement/dance classes for direct instruction? Do you have any idea why dance classes are handled differently licensing services?

  8. Thank you for eliciting copyright/fair use etc. questions. This topic is relevant to some of the work we are doing this year at my school. What is the rule on using giphy(s) if there is no copyright info or licensing labels on it. The use of these are more decorative and or educational inspiration, but not transferring information or content per se?

  9. What is the legality of uploading library DVDs to a PLEX server that teachers can access in order to show films in their classes?

  10. Issues surrounding use of individual streaming accounts like Netflix, Hulu etc to show movies during break or lunch – clearly not educational? Use of individual streaming accounts for educational purposes?

  11. YouTube! Fair use applied to students using YouTube videos in classroom and all school presentations. Teachers showing YouTube videos in the classroom. I’d love to have short (!), easy-to-understand and authoritative guidelines to share with students and teachers.

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