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 no 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.

However 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.

We also feel that each educator or digital storyteller 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 some commonly available media may fall under the doctrine of Educational Fair Use in some countries, such as the United States. Here are some of the reasons we believe it may be permissible to use these materials in educational digital stories:

  • The digital stories are created by students and educators for non-profit, educational purposes.
  • The digital stories, are not 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 are found on the web with commonly used search engines and then this content is 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. In this article, Ms. Hobbs writes: "In recent years, courts (in the United States) 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."
  • 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 television show or movie in a educational digital story would discourage potential customers from purchasing the song or buying or renting a copy of the television show or movie.

However, because issues of copyright, intellectual property and educational fair use may differ depending on the county or institution, we strongly believe that it is always safest to use your own material, such as:

  • photos you take with your own digital camera,
  • images you scan of your own family photographs or documents,
  • video you shoot with your own video camera,
  • charts, graphs or other artwork you create using software on your own computer, smartphone or tablet, and
  • music or other works in the public domain or usable under Creative Commons licenses.  


You can find more information about copyright and educational fair use at the following websites: