Video Clips in the Classroom: Just “Do a Little Research” to Tame Your Fear of Copyright Infringement

For this post I decided to give my “Tech and Feeling” series a rest and discuss copyright issues about using video clips in class lectures, such as for a slide presentation. I am taking this detour because when I discuss using video clips from professionally produced DVDs with instructors and grad students, immediately their fear of copyright infringement comes up. And their fear is almost always their reason for not learning how to manipulate videos for the classroom. I completely understand that fear, because the legal language and the fuzziness of the laws can be daunting. Add to that the massive amounts of resources, especially on the Web, and the threat of prosecution for breaking laws you do not quite understand in the first place, and that fear can become paralyzing. However, with a little effort, getting the right information about copyright for educational purposes is a breeze.

Now, since I am in no way a legal expert, in this post I am not going to give any specific advice except the very basic “do a little research,” which applies to almost any pedagogical tools we want to use. To help ease the common and understandable fear many of you may feel about this, here I am taking some of the “search” out of research by giving you some links to other sites that provide solid, useful guidelines that will make you feel comfortably safe with your “fair use decisions.”

I believe a little humor break is in order now to help you decompress a bit before diving in, so here is a nifty video mash-up I found in The Stanford School of Law’s Center for the Internet and Society Web site. The short description in the site reads: Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles delivered through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless copyright terms. Please make certain to read the FBI Warning at the very beginning, after the title sequence. It is enlightening, elegantly witty.


It is important to “do a little research,” because even though the much discussed July 26, 2010, Statement of the Librarian of Congress Relating to Section 1201 Rulemaking somewhat clarifies copyright laws regarding educational use, it is imperative to not simply rely on that document and its interpretations. Note, I did say “somewhat clarifies.” The 07-06-2010 Statement does clearly state some important guidelines for educators who want to use video from encrypted DVDs, but it is important to understand the document’s limitations and also have a firm purchase on the basic, Fair Use copyright laws. That said, an excellent article about the new rules is “Movie Clips and Copyright,” by Steve Kolowich.

Part of my “do a little research” advice (now, you honestly did not think I would just give one “word” of advise and leave it at that, no?) is to start looking for information from sources provided by your own institution. It probably has at least one Web site that covers copyright and Fair Use. Another great resource is your school’s library. Not only will they have at least one expert who can help you make informed decisions, but many of them also have Web sites and other resources, too. Also, find out if your institution has a copyright legal adviser. Sometimes, like ours here at UC Davis, she or he may even offer workshops or participate in discussion panels about the pertinent Fair Use issues.

If you want more information, there are Web sites, many from colleges and universities, which enumerate guidelines for fair use. One of the best is the University of Texas Copyright Crash Course. Look through a few of the sites and find the ones that make most sense to you. When you get what you feel is enough information from sources you trust, you will have a good idea of how to proceed.

Once your fear of copyright is tamed with knowledge, adding clips from popular or scientific videos will add almost endless possibilities for creating engaging, innovative multimedia slide presentations that will make your spark your students’ imagination. I know from personal experience that knowledge I passed on in solid, thought-out multimedia slide presentations stayed with students long after the actual presentations were over. Is that not precisely what we are trying to achieve by putting a slide presentation together, no matter what field we are in?

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