Copyright plays an important role in digital storytelling. As educators and students, you need to be aware of the law so you know what kind of images, sounds and other media you can use without infringing the copyright of others.

There is enough information online about this topic to discourage even the most dedicated researcher. Our goal is to sift through the vast amount of data and bring you the best and most applicable knowledge.

There are five areas of copyright of interest to educators and digital storytelling, and we have a section dedicated to each. They are:

Copyright - provides a definition and history of the topic.
Legal Issues - discusses US and international copyright law. Of special interest to researchers.
Educational Fair Use - helps readers understand how to use information from the Internet without getting sued.
Creative Commons - discusses the movement toward making media easier to use by voluntarily giving up ownership rights.
Multimedia - talks about where to find images, sounds and music for digital stories, along with tutorials for how to copy and use images you find on the Internet.

There is also an extensive FAQ section which address the most common questions educators and students have about copyright and educational fair use and their relationship to digital storytelling.

Copyright: Definition
The right granted by statute to the author or originator of certain literary, artistic, and musical productions whereby for a limited period of time he or she controls the use of the product. The work may be reproduced by the individual or by another licensed to do so by the individual. Royalties are paid on each performance of the work or each copy that is sold.

"Copyright," Highbeam Online Encyclopedia

The legal ownership of a "work," which can take any of the following forms: written text, program source code, graphics images, sculpture, music, sound recording, motion picture, pantomime, choreograph and architecture. Before January 1, 1978, a work had to be published to be copyrighted. After that date, any work expressed in paper or electronic form is automatically copyrighted for the life of the author plus 70 years. Registration with the Copyright Office is not required, although it is beneficial if there are disputes later on. In the U.S., a copyright symbol is not mandatory, but recommended.

For works by an anonymous author or an author who uses a fictitious name (pseudonymous) as well as works "made for hire," such as a publication written by an employee of a company, the copyright lasts 120 years from date of creation or 95 years from date of publication, whichever is shorter. For more information, visit "Copyright," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Branch of law granting authors the exclusive privilege to reproduce, distribute, perform, or display their creative works. The goal of copyright law is to encourage authors to invest effort in creating new works of art and literature. Copyright is one branch of the larger legal field known as intellectual property, which also includes trademark and patent law. Copyright law is the legal foundation protecting the work of many major industries, including book publishing, motion-picture production, music recording, and computer software development. These industries account for considerable economic activity in the United States, making copyright law a field of enormous economic importance.

Not every work of authorship is eligible for copyright. To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be both fixed and original. The law considers a work to be fixed if it is recorded in some permanent format. Acceptable ways of fixing a work include writing it down, storing it on a computer floppy disk or compact disc (CD), recording it on videotape, or sculpting it in marble. If a poet thinks of a new poem and recites it to an audience without writing it down, copyright does not protect the poem because it is not fixed. To be original, the work must not be copied from previously existing material and must display at least a reasonable amount of creativity. For example, if an author writes the words “the sky is blue” on a piece of paper, copyright does not protect the words because they lack sufficient creativity. Consequently, short phrases and titles are usually not protected by copyright, but in some circumstances they may be protected by trademark law.

Copyright only protects the words, notes, or images that the creator has used. It does not protect any ideas or concepts revealed by the work. If, for example, a scientist publishes an article explaining a new process for refining oil, the copyright prevents others from copying the words of that article. It does not, however, prevent anyone else from using the process described to refine oil. To protect the process, the scientist must obtain a patent. Similarly, if a novelist writes a book about a man obsessed about killing a whale, other people may write their own books on the same subject, as long as they do not use the exact words or a closely similar plot.

Author not available, COPYRIGHT., The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2006 The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright 2006 Columbia University Press

Copyright: History

Protection of rights in literary property did not appear necessary in Europe prior to the invention of printing from movable type in the 15th century. The sovereign asserted control over printing by issuing patents or privileges to individuals or by organizing publishers' guilds with monopoly rights. Through such devices, the state was able to censor heresy and sedition, while at the same time fostering literature. The only protection that the common law extended to the author was against publication of the work without permission; once publication was allowed, the work passed completely out of the author's control.

The first English copyright act (1710), while maintaining the common-law right, allowed the author to copyright a work for 14 years (with a like period of renewal); it also required deposition of copies and a notice that the work was copyrighted. That law was the model for the earliest American copyright statute, passed in 1790. Wheaton v. Peters (1834; see Henry Wheaton ) established that copyright exists primarily for the public benefit rather than for the creator of the work. The current copyright statute became effective in 1978, superseding an act of 1909. The law provides copyright for the duration of the author's life plus 70 years.


Congress adopted the first U.S. copyright law in 1790. The copyright law has been amended frequently, often in reaction to new inventions, such as photography and the development of motion pictures. Congress made a major revision to U.S. law in the Copyright Act of 1909, which remained in effect until January 1, 1978, when it was replaced by the Copyright Act of 1976. Although Congress has amended the 1976 act often, this statute continues to be the legal basis for copyright protection in the United States. Under the 1976 act, copyright protection begins as soon as the work is fixed—that is, written down or recorded in some manner—regardless of whether it is published. As originally adopted, the 1976 act granted copyright protection for the life of the author plus 50 years. Starting in the mid-1990s, several parties began campaigning for Congress to lengthen this term. In part this was because the European Union (EU) had extended the duration of copyrights in Europe in 1993. A longer term was also supported by large corporate copyright owners who did not want to see their copyrights expire. For example, The Walt Disney Company advocated additional copyright protection because the copyright on its Mickey Mouse character was about to expire in 2003.

In response to these lobbying efforts, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) in 1998. The act extended the term of copyrights, so that now a copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Once a copyright expires, anyone is free to copy or use the work, and the work is said to be "in the public domain."<[> "Copyright," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright in the Digital Age

Until the computer age, the greatest risk of infringement faced by copyright owners came from competitors, because the average person could not duplicate and distribute protected works in large quantities. However, personal computers allow anyone to store information and make copies with ease, and the Internet makes it possible to distribute information anywhere in the world. This reality led copyright owners to use various means to protect their copyright. Encryption and password protection are two common measures. However, some computer users have found ways to bypass these measures.

Congress adopted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 as a response to this problem. Under this law it is illegal to hack into computers, break codes, or otherwise “defeat measures that control access to copyrighted works.” You can’t do it yourself and you can’t make or sell equipment that enables others to do so. Under this law, movie studios forced closure of a Web site that posted computer code showing how to break into copy protection software of DVDs. DMCA also protects Internet service providers from infringement charges when users of their service break this law by post infringing materials or sending them via e-mail. However, this is only true when the provider “cooperates with the copyright owners” by taking such materials off the Internet when they receive notice of an infringement. This law also makes it illegal to remove the author’s name or other copyright information from a work.

The DMCA law is complex and controversial. Critics of DMCA complain that some traditional rights of users of copyrighted works are being taken away. As an example, the inability to access a password-protected work could prevent someone from quoting from it in a critical review. This is protected under the fair use doctrine. They also use the invasion of privacy argument, because the DMCA may allow copyright owners to demand that Internet service providers (ISPs) reveal the names of users who have "engaged in alleged violations of the law."

The recording industry has been in the headlines recently for directly suing individuals (especially college students) who download music files and share them without permission. The lawsuits have deterred some from illegal file swapping, but at the cost of negative publicity for the industry. Since millions of users regularly download billions of files on a regular basis, one questions the usefulness of these suits.

The entertainment industry in general has also pursued commercial companies that enable file sharing of music and movies. These companies defend their actions by claiming they are unable to control or monitor the activities of their users, and therefore should not be held responsible for them. This strategy has often worked, but in some highly publicized cases the music download service Napster was forced to change its business practices, and the Grokster and Streamcast companies were held liable for copyright infringement when people used their technology to illegally download copyright-protected works over the Internet.

"Copyright," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Copyrightable Materials

Literary matter, periodicals, maps, photographs, works of art, textile and other designs, sound recordings, musical compositions, photoplays, and radio and television programs are among the commodities that may be copyrighted. Material for copyright in the United States must be registered and deposited with the Library of Congress.


Under the 1976 act, copyright extends to all “works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” This includes literary works, visual arts, audiovisual works, musical compositions, dramatic works, choreography and pantomime; and sound recordings (music, speech, or other sounds). Computer programs and works of architecture are also included.

Works prepared by federal government employees, are not protected by the copyright law. Anyone may reproduce these works without obtaining permission. Examples include court opinions, statutes, photographs and maps.

"Copyright," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

International Copyright

The Bern and Universal Copyright Conventions The Bern Convention of 1887 provides that literary material copyrighted in any signatory country automatically enjoys copyright in all the signatory countries. The U.S. became a member of the convention in 1989.

Most nations subscribe to the convention, and most of those who do not are parties to the UCC or members of the World Trade Organization , whose agreements cover copyright and other intellectual property rights.

For More Information

Copyright Crash Course
Highly recommended! University of Texas, Office of General Counsel; Contains detailed materials on fair use and many other copyright issues.

Copyright Law and Technology
Excellent article which addresses all issues simply and clearly, in only 3 pages. Great for educators.

Digital Rights Management
Tech Encyclopedia,

Image Protection
Tech Encyclopedia,

Title 17: Copyrights
Cornell University Law School. This version is generated from the most recent official version made available by the US House of Representatives.

How to License Your Work

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works


Besenjak, Cheryl. Copyright Plain and Simple. Career Press, 2000. Outlines the fundamental elements of copyright.

Fishman, Stephen, and Patti Gima, eds. The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect & Use Written Works. Nolo, 2000. Covers all aspects of copyright.

Jassin, Lloyd J., and Steven C. schecter. The copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. Wiley, 1998. Discusses how to clear rights. For anyone interested in using copyrighted material.

B. Kaplan, An Unhurried View of Copyright (1967); W.S. Strong, The Copyright Book (1986); H.G. Henn, Copyright Law (1988); J.M. Samuels, ed., Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Laws (1989); E. Samuels, The Illustrated Story of Copyright (2000).

Samuels, Edward. The Illustrated Story of Copyright. St. Martin's, 2000. Explains in a clear and entertaining style the history and intricacies of copyright.

Strong, William S. The Copyright Book: A Practical Guide. MIT Press, 1999. A guide to copyright law for the layperson.

"The Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries."
- The United States Constitution, Article I, Secion 8

The Copyright Act of 1976

Rights of Copyright Owners and Licensing

The Copyright Act of 1976 gives copyright owners five exclusive rights. These rights are:

  1. Only the copyright owner may reproduce or make copies of the work.
  2. Only the copyright owner may prepare adaptations of the work, such as translating a novel into another language or adapting the novel into a screenplay.
  3. Only the copyright owner may distribute copies of the work to the public.
  4. Only the copyright owner may perform the work in public.
  5. Only the copyright owner may display the work in public.

    The Act was amended in 1995 to include a sixth exclusive right --

  6. The right to perform a sound recording by means of digital audio.
All of these rights are subject to many exceptions. For instance, certain nonprofit organizations can perform certain copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright owner, and libraries can make copies of damaged books without violating the copyright statute. It also permits owners of copies of computer software to make one copy as a backup.

U.S. Copyright Office - Copyright Law of the United States

"Copyright," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Bern Convention of 1887

This international agreement about copyright was first adopted in 1886, in Berne, Switzerland. It was developed at the instigation of French author Victor Hugo, and emphasizes the concept of the “right of the author” rather than the issue of economic protection. Before the Berne Convention was adopted, national copyright laws tended to apply only to the works created within the individual country.

The administrative arm of the Berne Convention, known as the BIRPI and later the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), became an organization within the United Nations in 1974.

The United States became a party to the Berne Convention in 1989. Currently, 163 countries are parties to the Berne Convention.

The content of the agreement

The Berne Convention requires its signatories to:

  • Protect the copyright on works of authors from other signatory countries (known as members of the Berne Union) in the same way it protects the copyright of its own nationals, which means that, for instance, French copyright law applies to anything published or performed in France, regardless of where it was originally created.
  • Establish a system of equal copyright treatment.
  • Provide strong minimum standards for copyright law.
Copyright under the Berne Convention must be automatic; it is prohibited to require formal registration. The Berne Convention states that:

  • All works except photographic and cinematographic shall be protected for at least 50 years after the author's death, but parties are free to provide longer terms of protection.
  • For photography the Berne Convention sets a minimum of 25 years protection from the year the photograph was created, and for cinematography the minimum is 50 years after first showing, or 50 years after creation if it hasn't been shown within 50 years after the creation.
The rule of the shorter term: Although the Berne Convention states that the copyright law of the country where protection is claimed shall be applied, an author is normally not entitled longer protection abroad than at home, even if the laws abroad give longer protection. This is commonly known as "the rule of the shorter term". Not all countries have accepted this rule.

The United States adheres to the Bern Convention of 1887, which provides that literary material copyrighted in any signatory country automatically enjoys copyright in all the signatory countries.

Wikipedia: Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Computers make it possible reproduce copyrighted material digitally and send it anywhere, immediately, via the Internet. Copyright owners have begun to combat illegal use of their works. They use encryption (making copying impossible), passwords (to view or download a work), and ethical pleas. However, some users bypass or ignore these measures.

Enter the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made it illegal to:

  • Defeat measures that control access to copyrighted works.
  • Remove copyright information (e.g. author’s name) from a work.
  • Sell or distribute devices that defeat copy control mechanisms.
Some people claim that DCMA takes away traditional rights of users of copyrighted works, for example quoting from a play in a critical review (allowable under the fair use doctrine). Invasion of privacy is also a concern, since the DMCA allows copyright owners to demand that Internet service providers (ISPs) reveal the names of users who allegedly violate this law.

Peer-to-peer file sharing is also controversial. This occurs when users exchange music and movie files with other people over the Internet. If the people sharing files are obtained them illegally, then they are both breaking the law. It has proved difficult to stop this behavior in the past, but in 2003 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began suing college students and others who share or download music files without paying.

In 2001 several record companies succeeded in a lawsuit against the music file-sharing service called Napster. In 2005 they scored again when the Supreme Court ruled that two file-sharing services were liable for copyright infringement when people used their technology to illegally download copyright-protected music and movies.

Copyright Protection and Management Systems

Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

This legislation extended copyright terms in the U.S. by 20 years. The new terms of copyright extension grew from the life of the author plus 50 years (75 for works of corporate authorship) to the life of the author plus 75 years. In addition, copyrighted works published prior to 1978 which had not yet entered the public domain also had their term of protection increased by 20 years.

In summary, under this act, works made in 1923 or later that were still copyrighted in 1008 will not enter the public domain until 2019. The act did not revive copyrights that had already expired. However, works created before 1978 but not published or registered for copyright until recently may remain protected until 2047.

This legislation was and continues to be controversial. The act is sometimes called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act because it protects the interests of this company and several others who own very profitable copyrights which were on the verge of expiration and entrance into the public domain. Proponents of the legislation state that it is necessary to align U.S. copyright expiration policy with the European Union.

See the links below for more information and opinion articles.

Wikipedia: Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act

For More Information

Important: The concept of Fair Use is so complex that even the lawyers don’t always agree on what is and is not protected. Please understand that while the information presented here is the best and most up-to-date we can find, it is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. If you are unsure how to proceed with your situation, consult an attorney or your institution’s legal department.

Educational Fair Use: Definition

Fair Use is an exception to the rule of copyright. It allows educators* and others to use portions of copyrighted works without the permission of the owner or infringing the copyright.

The law provides four non-exclusive factors to be used in determining whether a use is fair. These are commonly referred to as the four fair use factors. They are:

  1. The purpose of the use, including whether the use is a commercial use or for non-profit educational purposes**
  2. The nature of the work
  3. The amount used
  4. The effect on the marketing (or value) of the original work

*This includes: K-12 schools, colleges and universities. Libraries, museums, hospitals and other nonprofit institutions usually qualify when they conduct instruction or research for educational purposes.

**Examples of (non-commercial) Educational Purposes:

  • Instruction or curriculum-based teaching by educators to students at nonprofit educational institutions
  • Study or investigation in order to contribute to a field of knowledge
  • Presentation of research findings at peer conferences, workshops or seminars

"Copyright" Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Office of Legal Affairs, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Stanford University Libraries, Educational Uses of Non Coursepack materials

The Three Kinds of Fair Use: Creative, Personal, and Educational

  1. Creative fair use involves the use of another work in creating one's own work
  2. Personal use involves the use of a copyrighted work for learning or entertainment
  3. Educational fair use involves the use of copyrighted works for teaching, scholarship, or research. As a general proposition, creative fair use involves a use of the copyright. Personal and educational fair use involve only a use of the work
Fair Use Analysis Using the Four Fair Use Factors

I strongly recommend reading the “For More Information” section below and visiting the sites listed. The legal department websites of the University System of Georgia and the University of Texas are especially helpful.

If you are uncertain whether or not it is acceptable to use an item, the best thing to do is a conduct a Fair Use Analysis using the four fair use factors. The University of Texas has a very useful procedure for this.

Factor Acceptable for Fair Use
1. What is the character of use?
If your purpose is one of the following, it falls within the rule of thumb for fair use.

•News reporting 
•Otherwise "transformative" use 
2. What is the nature of the work to be used?
•Fact  •Published  •A mixture of fact and imaginative 
3. How much of the work will you use?
•Small Amount 
4. What effect would this use have on the market for the original or for permissions if the use were widespread?
•Original is out of print or otherwise unavailable  •Copyright owner is unidentifiable  •No ready market for permission 

Ask yourself:

  • Does my use of this item interfere with the copyright holder's ability to make a profit from his/her work?
  • Is the copying a substitute for purchasing a work that is readily available?

Educational Fair Use : What is Permitted


  • You can use anything that is in the Public Domain and use it anywhere, including making it available via the Internet.
  • Anyone may copy items from a copyrighted anthology if the item itself (e.g. a Shakespeare play within a book of plays) is in the public domain and not subject to copyright protection.
  • You can make copies of television programs or movies for later viewing for your classroom.
  • You can prepare and give a presentation that displays photographs, even if permission was not obtained to use the photographs, as long as the presentation is given in a traditional classroom, a remote class location, or for distance instruction. You can also broadcast this presentation to students at their homes or offices if they are enrolled in your course and viewing the presentation for purposes of criticism, comment, teaching or instruction, scholarship or research.
  • You may scan an article from a copyrighted journal and add it to your Web page or include it in a digital story…IF… access to your web page is limited.
  • You can create a telecourse (including digital stories) using copyrighted materials. Most legal experts agree that this is a fair use of the materials. Again, it must be restricted and not for the general public.

  • You can change the attributes of pictures or graphics which are copyright protected and include them in a digital story or power point presentation. It is considered fair use “for education, comment, criticism, or parody.” You must inform your audience that changes were made to the photographer's copyrighted work.

  • You can create a digital story and incorporate copyrighted music into the background, without obtaining permission to use the music for the story. This is considered fair use as long as instruction is occurring.

  • You can copy this same digital story and rebroadcast it anywhere on campus, as long as there are no admission charges. Tuition and course fees are not considered admission fees.

  • You can copy your digital story and broadcast it to a closed course or the school’s intranet even if it contains copyrighted music and photos. The key is to restrict access to those who are viewing it for educational purposes.

Educational Fair Use: What is Not Permitted

You cannot place anything on the Internet which contains copyrighted photos, sounds or music unless you have obtained permission from the copyright owner. Once you publish something on the World Wide Web, it is considered public. The logic behind this is that there is no way to guarantee it will be used exclusively for educational purposes or meet other fair use criteria. There is a risk of violating the copyright holder’s right of public distribution of their photos, sounds or music.

Neither you nor your students can publish a digital story on the Web if it contains copyrighted material that you used without obtaining permission. If you received permission for personal use only, you cannot make it public by putting it on the Web.

Public Domain

Public domain comprises the body of knowledge to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests, such as a patent or copyright. These works are considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which anyone may use, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

A creative work is said to be in the public domain if there are no laws which restrict its use by the public at large.

An item is not considered in the public domain if a proprietary interest such as a copyright, patent, exists. When the copyright, patent or other proprietary restrictions expire, the work enters the public domain and may be used by anyone for any reason.


When copyright and patent terms expire, the works are released into the public domain. In most countries, patents expire 20 years after they are filed. The copyright in a published work expires in most countries when any of these conditions are satisfied:

  • The work was created and first published before January 1, 1923, or at least 95 years before January 1 of the current year, whichever is later
  • The last surviving author died at least 70 years before January 1 of the current year
  • A perpetual copyright does not exist (part of the Berne Convention)
  • Neither the United States nor the European Union has passed a copyright term extension since these conditions were last updated
  • Click on this link to view a flow chart which helps determine when the copyright of various works expires.

Examples of Educational Fair Use and Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Common Scenarios

  • Let’s say you assign your students a digital story project. They use photos and sound files they found on the Internet using Google, Dogpile and other search engines, and on various sites including MySpace and YouTube. They did not keep a record of the websites from which they obtained the images and other items, and they did not find out whether the materials are under copyright protection.

    • They can show the digital stories in class or anywhere within the school site

    • You can post the digital stories to your school’s intranet or server

    • You can post the digital stories on the Web, if the site has limited access, i.e. it is not public

  • Outside the school: If you created a digital story that contains copyrighted photos, sounds or music that you did not obtain permission to use, you should conduct a fair use analysis before showing it to a community group or others for non-educational purposes. The fact that you are an educator does not automatically give you permission to show this work outside an instructional environment.

  • You can include any of the above digital stories as part of an electronic coursepack, which you plan to distribute to your students, as long as you are doing so strictly for educational purposes. To be on the safe side, you should include a statement on the CD label or in the content to the effect that the information therein is for educational purposes only and not for public use.

The Good Faith Fair Use Defense

The penalties for infringement are steep. There is one special provision of the law that allows a court to refuse to award any damages, even if the copying at issue was not a fair use. The provision is called the good faith fair use defense. This defense only applies if the person who copied material reasonably believed that what he or she did was a fair use. If you qualify for this defense, it makes you a very poor prospect for a lawsuit. Conversely, if you cannot prove that you know enough about the law to distinguish what could reasonably constitute fair use, a court may award maximum damages. Educating yourself about fair use is the best way to avoid becoming the target for a lawsuit.

North Carolina Statue University Libraries

University of Texas System, Office of General Counsel

For More Information

Flow Chart to determine when U.S. copyrights for fixed works expire.

Office of Legal Affairs, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

University of Texas System, Office of General Counsel; Copyright Crash Course

The American Distance Education Consortium: Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia

Stanford University: Copyright and Fair Use Overview, Chapter 7: Academic and Educational Permissions

University of Minnesota Libraries Copyright Initiatives:
Working With Fair Use

Library of Congress Copyright Office, Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians

University of Georgia System: Regents Guide to Understanding Copyright & Educational Fair Use Part II D, describing fair use of multimedia, is particularly informative and includes many specific examples.

Cathy Newsome: A Teacher’s Guide to Fair Use and Copyright

Education World: World Series on Copyright Use, An Educator’s Guide to Copyright and Fair Use

Definition and Purpose of Creative Commons

The Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by Hal Abelson, James Boyle, Michael Carroll, Eric Eldred, Lawrence Lessig and Eric Saltzman. It began its existence at Harvard Law School and later moved to Stanford Law School.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization which address the middle ground between complete copyright protection and public domain. Creative Commons offers creators “a best-of-both-worlds” option somewhere between full copyright and public domain – where people can copy and use their material for all kinds of purposes, as long as it is not part of any commercial (for profit) venture.

Creative Commons “wants to make it easier for people both to offer and find works that are available for creative collaboration.” This occurs via a licensing structure whereby someone offers their work to Creative Commons in exchange for some rights in return. See their website, for a more complete description and specific examples.

Briefly, the licensing structure works as follows.

  • Attribution - others can use your work, but must give credit
  • Noncommercial – people may use your works, but only for noncommercial purposes
  • No Derivative Works – others may use verbatim copies of the licensed work, but they cannot use only a part of it, and they cannot use it to “derive” a completely new work of their own.
  • Share Alike – this applies to derivative works only. If you use the work of someone else to create a new work of your own, you must make your work available under the same terms you obtained the work it came from.
  • Look for this logo and similar versions of it to indicate that a work is licensed by Creative Commons.
Creative Commons

Educause Learning Initiative: 7 Things You Should Know About Creative Commons

The Role of Creative Commons in Digital Storytelling

Creative Commons fosters digital storytelling in several ways. First, it removes the weight of concern over copyright infringement from the shoulders of educators and those who would create digital stories. Second, the Creative Commons provides a way to find images, sounds and other materials simply by including the term "Creative Commons" in the search term.

Most students use photos, graphics and music to create digital stories, and the majority of these come from the World Wide Web. In our experience, very few people have paid much attention to whether the images they use in their stories are under copyright, much less considered whether Fair Use applies to the use of these works. We haven't heard of any lawsuits either, but let’s just say that the education community has been lucky so far.

While it would be wonderful if the for-profit copyright community encouraged students and educators of all kinds to use any creative media they like, at present copying works without the owners permission is another form of stealing. Using the creative commons, free use sites and the public domain provide teachers with easily obtainable materials, while allowing students to have fun with their digital stories without being told "you can’t use that."

How to Find Creative Commons Materials

The fastest and easiest way to find Creative Commons materials is to use the Creative Commons search engine on their site. It features links to many search engines which house creative commons-licensed works. Alternatively, you can use any search site on the Internet, and include the term "creative commons" in the search query. Good places to start include the following:

Flickr -
Be aware that some images may not be suitable for children. It’s worth the extra supervision, though.

Creative Commons search site -

YotoPhoto -

For More Information

Creative Commons Website:

Educause Learning Initiative: 7 Things You Should Know About Creative Commons


Wikimedia Commons/Wikicommons:

Free Content: description and examples

Creative Commons and Storytelling

Creative Commons Licensing Information

Search for Creative Commons images, sounds, etc.

How to donate work to the public domain

Which Media Can Be Used Legally?

This is a complex question which has no simple answers. Even the courts don't always agree on what is and is not considered fair use or how long copyright protection should last from one case to another. Basically, educators and students may use images under the following conditions:

  • The media is in the public domain
  • Permission has been obtained from the owner to use the work
  • The use of the work qualifies as Educational Fair Use (refer to the Fair Use section for more information)

The University System of Georgia has done an excellent job of creating typical scenarios that describe what occurs in classrooms every day. After describing the scenario, they state whether or not this example qualifies for Fair Use or not. If you choose to go this route, their web site will prove invaluable.

Here is an example:

8. Use of Copyrighted Music

SCENARIO O: A teacher or student creates a presentation and incorporates copyrighted music into the background. Assume that permission was not obtained to use the music for the presentation.

QUESTION: Can the music be included in the teacher's or student's initial presentation?

ANSWER: Yes. This is fair use if instruction is occurring.

It can be very difficult to find out who owns the actual copyright to some works. It can be even more of a challenge to obtain permission to use the work(s). For this reason we strongly recommend that you adopt the practice of using images, sounds, videos, text and other creative works that are either in the public domain or licensed under the Creative Commons. An extensive list of web sites which offer royalty-free works if offered below.

Where Can I Find Usable Media?


This valuable site is sensitive to copyright and helps educate readers about its importance. It links to several other photo libraries and is user friendly.
This site is easy to navigate and all images are free. You must sign up for membership (also free). Frequently updated. The photos are sorted by categories. Because the resolution is listed next to the photo, it is easy to tell at a glance whether it is usable for a digital story. is the largest collection of free photographs for private non-commercial use on the Internet.
Contains mostly free high resolution digital stock photography for either corporate or public use. Pay attention to their disclaimers and copyright information.
"The Pics4Learning collection consists of thousands of images that have been donated by students, teachers, and amateur photographers. Permission has been granted for teachers and students to use all of the images donated to the Pics4Learning collection."
This site specializes in images that are licensed under Creative Commons. When you click on am image, it clearly states which license applies (for a definition of these licenses see the "Fair Use" section or visit:
This site specializes in clip art that is either in the public domain at present, or is contributed to the public domain by the artist who created it. Look for the logo which indicates that the work has been licensed in the public domain through Creative Commons. on the Internet.
A collection of high-quality public domain images specifically tailored for use in word processors, but they also work great for digital stories. It includes graphic clips as well as illustrations and photographs. It contains over 17,000 images.

All images made by the government are in the public domain. - has an excellent search screen "images and imaginations of ourhome planet" images from the US Fish and Wildlife Service National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


This is a very common and easy way to find images. But beware – many of the images are copyright protected, so you will need to be certain that your use qualifies as Fair Use before using them. That’s the down side. The good news is that this method can yield thousands and thousands of images.

  • Click on the word Images just above the white search box. This will take you the Google Image Search screen.
  • Type your search term in the white search box.
  • Click on the Search Images button to the right of the white search box.
  • One the left side of the light blue bar near the top of the screen you will see the words “Images Showing.” Select “Large Images” from the pull-down menu. This will narrow the search to high resolution images. These will be the ones most suitable for digital storytelling projects.
  • Follow the usual procedure to copy and save images from the Internet (see “Working With Images” below for access to a tutorial on how to do this).

Audio, Video & Music

American Rhetoric (famous speeches)

"The site makes material available in an effort to advance understanding of political, social and religious issues as they relate to the study and practice of rhetoric and public address deemed relevant to the public interest and the promotion of civic discourse."

Find Sounds!

A free site where you can search the Web for sound effects and musical instrument samples.

Free Kids Music:

A collection of quality children’s music. These are complete songs, not edited versions. All music downloads on this site are free.

Freeplay Music:

This is a comprehensive collection of High End Broadcast production music spanning many popular musical genres. Music is available for free download online or can be purchased by CD.

Internet Archive:

An excellent source of historic audio and video collections. The copyright status is clearly labeled.


This site aims to provide a location where musicians can upload music under the Creative Commons license for use in Podcasts, Mashups, Shoutcasts, Webcasts and every other kind of 'casting' that exists on the 'net.

Podcasting Basics:


Sound Transit:

Sounds are licensed under the Creative Commons attribution license.

Wikimedia - Sounds:

Sounds are licensed under the Creative Commons attribution license or in the public domain.


There are numerous sites on the web these days that offer music clips that are freely available for use without violating copyright. Here are a few we like:




Video/Movies in the Public Domain

Internet Archive:

A great source for movies in the public domain. Also includes cartoons, video games and Vlogs.

Picture History:

"Picture History is an online archive of images and film footage illuminating more than 200 years of American history."

Video Kits:

Resources with the goal of empowering K-12 students to use cutting-edge technology to create broadcast-quality videos. A collaboration betweeb the Orange County, California Department of Education and KOCE-TV

Working with Images

How to Copy and Save Images from the Internet

Once you have found an image that you would like to use, you will want to download a copy to store on your computer. There is a wonderful tutorial by Helen Mongan-Rallis of the Education Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Click here:

How to Copy and Save Images from the Internet

Image resolution describes the detail an image contains. Resolution is usually described in terms of pixels, In digital images, resolution is often measured in pixels (short for picture element) The convention is to describe image resolution in terms of number of columns (width) and rows (height) of pixels. For example, 800 x 600. The higher the resolution, the detail it holds, therefore the better the quality of the image.

In our experience, images should be a minimum of 600 x 480. Low resolution images will look grainy or pixilated (i.e. you can see the individual square pixels in the photo) when shown on a large screen or monitor. See the example below. If you zoom in on these pictures or project them on a large screen, the difference becomes more dramatic.

More Resources

Technology How-Tos:
This terrific web site contains “various guidelines developed to assist people in using a variety of computer applications.” Translation: there are how-to sites for almost anything to do with multimedia, including streaming video, power point, blogging, wikis, taking digital photos and inserting them into a web page, even how to use computers to assist in teaching and learning.

American Memory from the Library of Congress:
Contains sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience…” These materials come from the Library of Congress and other sites.

Digital History
"The materials included in the Digital History website are original works of authorship, government records, works for which copyright permission has expired, works reprinted with permission, or works that we believe are within the fair use protection of the copyright laws."

Library of Congress Learning Page:
The Learning Page is designed to help educators use the American Memory Collections to teach history and culture. It offers tips and tricks, definitions and rationale for using primary sources, activities, discussions, lesson plans and suggestions for using the collections in classroom curriculum.

NASA Hubble Telescope:
This site contains teaching resources and information for educators. It also contains many image and video galleries.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Photo Library:
"The NOAA collection spans centuries of time and much of the natural world from the center of the Earth to the surface of the Sun. Most NOAA photos and slides are in the public domain and cannot be copyrighted."

New York Public Library Picture Collection Online (NYPL):
This is "a collection of 30,000 digitized images from books, magazines and newspapers as well as original photographs, prints and postcards, mostly created before 1923" and therefore in the public domain.

Question Answer
1. What is Copyright? Copyright Page - top
2. Why is copyright an important consideration in digital storytelling? Many components (images, sounds, etc.) of digital stories are created by others. Educators need understand copyright in order to avoid infringement and possible legal action.
3. What is NOT protected by copyright?
4. Where can I find out more about Copyright? Copyright Page - top
5. What does Copy LEFT mean?
6. How can I license a work I have created?
7. What is Creative Commons? Short answer. Link to Creative Commons
8. How do I find images on the Internet? Creative Commons Page top
9. Where can I find audio and video on the Internet? Use of Multimedia Page Section title Where Can I Find Usable Media?
10. How do I avoid violating copyright? Ensure that your efforts qualify for exemption under the Educational Fair Use provision of copyright laws. Link to Educational Fair Use page.
11. What can I/my students use without worry of copyright violation? Link to Copyright and the Use of Multimedia page.
12. What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)? Link to Legal Issues Page, section titled Digital Millennium Copyright Act
13. How long do copyrights last?
14. When do copyrights expire?
15. What is Educational Fair Uset? Link to Educational Fair Use page.
16. What Are the Four Fair Use Factors? Link to Educational Fair Use page, section titled Educational Fair Use: Definition
17. How do I conduct a Fair Use Analysis? Link to Educational Fair Use page, section titled Fair Use Analysis Using the Four Fair Use Factors
18. What is permitted under Educational Fair Use? Link to Educational Fair Use page, section titled What is Permitted
19. How do I avoid being sued for copyright infringement? Ensure that your efforts qualify for exemption under the Educational Fair Use provision of copyright laws. Link to Educational Fair Use page.
20. Give me an example of how Fair Use works in the classroom. Link to Educational Fair Use page, section titled Examples of Educational Fair Use and Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
21. What is in the Public Domain? Link to Educational Fair Use page, section titled Public Domain
22. What is the Creative Commons? Link to Creative Commons page
23. How does Creative Commons benefit digital storytelling? Link to Creative Commons page, section titled The Role of Creative Commons in Digital Storytelling
24. Where can I find Creative Commons materials?
25. Where can I multimedia to use in digital stories? Link to Multimedia page, section titled Where Can I Find Usable Media?
26. How do I find images on the Internet? Link to tutorial: How to do a Google search, other search engines and ideas, how to copy an image and tipson resolutions, cropping, etc. Link to Images
27. I found a picture I want to use in my digital story. How do I find out if it is copyrighted? Its best to assume the picture is copyrighted, unless it clearly falls within the public domain. If the author is listed, ask them for permission, or conduct a Fair Use Analysis to determine whether you can use the item. Link to Educational Fair Use page.
28. Why are my images pixilated? Link to Multimedia page, section titled Working With Images
29. How do I get permission to use an image, sound or data?
30. If I can't get permission, do I have other options? Short to medium answer. Link to Permission to use, Educational Fair Use
31. What is podcasting?
32. Where can I find movies in the public domain? Link to Multimedia Page, section titled Videos/Movies in the Public Domain
33. What is image resolution? Link to Multimedia Page, section titled Working With Images Image Quality.
34. What is the best resolution for images in digital stories? Link to Multimedia Page, section titled Working With Images Image Quality.


Here are the 10 websites we find most helpful...Maybe you will too!

Copyright Crash Course
Highly recommended! University of Texas, Office of General Counsel; Contains detailed materials on fair use and many other copyright issues.

7 Things You Should Know About Creative Commons

Office of Legal Affairs, University System of Georgia
Excellent scenarios of how educators may and may not used copyrighted matierials.


Cathy Newsome: A Teacher's Guide to Fair Use and Copyright

Musicians can upload music for use in Podcasts, Mashups, Shoutcasts, Webcasts and every other kind of 'casting' on the 'net.

Technology How-Tos
This terrific help links how-to sites for almost anything to do with multimedia, including streaming video, power point, blogging, wikis, taking digital photos and inserting them into a web page, even how to use computers to assist in teaching and learning.

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