Educational Materials

Copyright & Educational Fair Use

Issues of ownership, copyright, permission, and educational fair use invariably come up in any discussion involving the use of digital content created by someone else. The use of copyrighted material is indeed a serious concern and one that many educators and policy makers study and discuss. Unfortunately, there is not yet a definitive answer to the question of what materials may or may not be freely used in educational projects. Some educators feel that if a picture or a video clip can be easily found and downloaded from the web, then it is permissible to use this material in an educational digital story.

But other educators have a different opinion and do not want their students to use any materials that were created by someone else. Like many other educators, we encourage our students to use digital cameras and camcorders to shoot their own pictures and video, create their own charts and graphs with software such as Microsoft Excel, search for copy-right-free music on the web rather than use commercial songs, and in general, think about how to create a digital story that uses as many copyright-free materials as possible.

But our overarching philosophy is that each educator needs to answer the question of copyright and educational fair use themselves, by carefully considering several factors, including the digital medium being used, the nature of that use, the policies in place at their school or institution, and, perhaps most importantly, their own comfort level in using and having students use material that can easily be downloaded from the web or re-mixed with commonly available computer hardware and software. There are many lengthy and often confusing copyright websites that aim to help educators make sense of copyright and educational fair use, and unfortunately, there are no simple or one-size-fits-all answers.

The philosophy we use in our courses, reflected in the digital stories included on this website and in projects created by students in our courses, is that the use of commonly available media fall under the doctrine of Educational Fair Use. Here are some of the reasons we believe it is permissible to use these materials in the manner that we do:

  • The digital stories on our website were created by students and educators for non-profit, educational purposes.
  • None of the digital stories or any other material on our website is for sale and there are no costs associated with the use of these materials by students and teachers.
  • The vast majority of the media (images, video clips, music, etc.) used in the digital stories on our website was found on the web with commonly used search engines and then this content was used to create new content in a new context.
  • We believe that this new use fits the description of “transformative” work, as described by Renee Hobbs in the online article: Best Practices Help End Copyright Confusion, online at:

    In this article, Ms. Hobbs writes: "In recent years, courts have recognized that transformative uses are fair uses. Specifically, when a user of copyrighted materials adds value to, or repurposes materials for a use different from that for which it was originally intended, it will likely be considered fair use."
  • And perhaps most importantly, we do not believe that these new transformative works interfere with the copyright holder’s ability to make a profit from selling their work. We doubt that any serious educator, policy maker or legal scholar would believe that using a small portion of a song or a video clip from a TV show or movie in a educational digital story and including it on an educational website would discourage potential customers from purchasing the song or buying or renting the movie.

More information about copyright and educational fair use may be found online at the following websites: