K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • Copyright for educators: Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This article explains copyright and U.S. copyright law primarily with respect to education.
  • Fair use: Fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose such as commentary, criticism, or parody. "Fair" uses do not require permission from the copyright owner. This article explains fair use, particularly with respect to education.
  • Fair use: Fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose...

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The text of this page is copyright ©2000. All Rights Reserved. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

Copyright concerns have usually been a negative experience for most library/media specialists. It generally means saying "no" to the plans of well-intentioned teachers. "NO — you can’t make multiple photocopies of a workbook to save the district money." "NO — you can’t play that rental video as a Friday entertainment activity." "NO — I can’t make seven copies of a video for temporary reserve."

The Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia gives library/media specialists an opportunity to promote copyright compliance in a positive light. In using these Guidelines with students, educators plant seeds of ethical judgment in an era when access to and manipulation of information is all too easy.


The Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia has its roots in the "fair use" clause of the 1976 Copyright Law. Educators were given an exemption to copyright restrictions based on brevity, spontaneity, cumulative effect, and copyright attribution.

The Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia are the result of the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU). Spearheaded by the Consortium of College and University Media Centers (CCUMC), this working group drew representatives from a wide variety of educational arenas, the publishing world, and the U.S. Copyright Office. Built on the discussions generated by the changing technology used to transmit and store information, both sides aired concerns and came to a workable compromise. In 1996, these Guidelines were recognized and issued by a House of Representatives subcommittee. The Guidelines were intentionally not passed into law so that both educators and copyright holders could evaluate the ability to follow the Guidelines as well as to take a "wait-and-see" posture toward rapidly evolving technologies.

Guidelines in brief

The overriding advantage of the Guidelines is that when educators and students follow them, they do not have to ask for advance permission from copyright holders. Think of the number of possible items a student can incorporate into a multimedia presentation — audio, photography, video, text — and the number of permission letters these items would require. Multiply that by a class of students and the planned project rapidly becomes overwhelming. That alone provides a persuasive case to use the Guidelines.

Since this is not a law, students and educators can, if they wish, exceed the Guidelines. However, since the limits detailed in the Guidelines have the approval of publishers, exceeding the limits places projects at risk of copyright infringement.

Different limits are given for educators and students. Students may use these Guidelines to produce multimedia projects for a specific course. In other words, they cannot use these Guidelines and newly acquired skills to produce multimedia presentations for unassigned activities, but they can show this project in the classroom. In her revised edition of Commonsense Copyright, Rosemary Talab notes that this has generally been extended to mean that project can be shown at "in house" events, such as parent open houses, science fairs, etc. Lastly, students may keep a copy of the work indefinitely to use for college interviews.

Educators may use these Guidelines to create teaching materials for their courses. These multimedia presentations may be used in face-to-face teaching, assigned for self-study, and in remote instruction (with limits). In other words, educators can place a copy of the project on reserve in the library or computer lab for students to review or for those who missed the class. Distance-learning classes, where access is limited by password, are treated the same as face-to-face instruction. Educators, however, are limited to using these projects for two years. After that, they must obtain written copyright permission to keep using the multimedia presentation.

Further, the new Guidelines recognize that sharing among peers is an integral part of teaching. So, presentations can be shown at conferences and workshops. And, as with students, educators may also retain a copy for use in interviews, tenure, etc.

Both students and educators are limited in the number of copies they may make of a completed presentation. No more than two copies may be in use at any time. This allows one to be used in a classroom and one to be placed on reserve in the library or computer lab. In addition, one copy may be kept for archival/portfolio purposes. When several people create a project, each may have his/her own archival copy, but no more than two copies may be used.

Limits by type of media

The Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia (FUGEM) contains portion limits that follow those of the 1976 print copyright law. These are cumulative to each course, each semester. In other words, if students or educators do more than one multimedia project for a course, then the limits apply for all projects. Additionally, the Guidelines specifically exempt K-6 grade students from adhering strictly to portion limits. Briefly, those limits are as follows:

  • Motion Media: Up to 10 percent or three minutes, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted motion media work.
  • Text Material: Up to 10 percent or 1,000 words, whichever is less, or a single copyrighted work of text.
  • Poems: An entire poem of less than 250 words, but no more than three poems by one poet or five poems by different poets from a single anthology. In longer poems, the 250-word limit still applies, plus no more than three excerpts by one poet or five excerpts by different poets from a single anthology may be used.
  • Music, Lyrics, and Music Video: Again, up to 10 percent, but no more than 30 seconds of music and lyrics from a single musical work. Any alterations of a musical work shall not change the basic melody or the fundamental character of the work. For example, a music instructor could use a piece of music and change the rhythm or emphasis on certain instruments to show how this would alter the music. However, the basic melody must still be recognizable.
  • Illustrations and Photographs: Here copyright holders recognized that using part of a photograph of painting is generally not feasible. So, students can use an entire photograph or illustration. But, no more than five images by one person and no more than 10 percent or 15 images from a single published work may be used. Here, too, instructors may take a famous painting and, using the computer, alter color to show how color affects the mood of a painting.
  • Numerical Data Sets: Up to 10 percent or 2,500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, from a database or datatable can be used. The Guidelines define field and cell entries. Business instructors often receive sample databases with texts. This allows them to use portions within a multimedia presentation.

These limits promote creativity among students, giving a resounding "no" to the student who wants to combine photographs from one art book, poems by one poet, and a song to "create" a multimedia project. Instead, it requires more research to develop a theme from among different media and a wider variety of creators.


The Guidelines also reinforce the cautions library/media specialists give students every day. Just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s automatically available to use. It further reminds Guidelines users that works often get on the Internet without legal copyright permission.

Two requirements must be included in every multimedia presentation created using the Guidelines. First, a notice of restriction must appear at the beginning of a multimedia presentation, alerting viewers that this presentation was created using the FUGEM. Library/media specialists or teachers can create such a template for all students to use. This also serves as notice to copyright holders that the creators did their best to follow Guidelines and, therefore, written permissions were not needed.

A sample copyright notice might look like this:

This presentation was created following the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia. Certain materials are included under the Fair Use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law. Further use of these materials and this presentation is restricted.

Proper credit for copyrighted materials must also be included in the presentation. This can be done at the time the copyrighted material is used, or it can be included at the end of the presentation, much like the bibliography at the end of a printed paper.