Copyright & Fair Use Guidelines for School Projects

By Shelly Morgan

Using materials created by other people in a school project isn't necessarily a violation of the copyright laws. Students routinely lift images from web pages to illustrate a science project or quote passages from books in class papers. While the copyright law often protects such materials, the act of copying them may be protected by the fair use exception of the copyright law.

Using materials created by other people in a school project isn't necessarily a violation of the copyright laws. Students routinely lift images from web pages to illustrate a science project or quote passages from books in class papers. While the copyright law often protects such materials, the act of copying them may be protected by the fair use exception of the copyright law.

Copyright Protection

Copyright protects original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, including literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial or graphic works. The holder of the copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce the protected work and to prepare derivative works. Engaging in these activities without permission is called infringement.

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Fair Use Doctrine

The fair use exception is a defense to infringement. This fair use doctrine can protect a student who reproduces work for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. For example, if a student is preparing a science fair poster about research he did on a particular drug, he might include information quoted from the drug's package insert. Such copying might qualify under the fair use doctrine because it was done for the purpose of research.

Factors

The fair use doctrine is not a blanket excuse for appropriating another's copyrighted work. Title 17 lists factors that determine whether a use is truly fair. These factors include the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used and the effect of such copying on the potential market for the work. As an example, copying an entire web page for a school project would not likely qualify as fair use.

Attribution

Although the fair use doctrine is largely silent as to the student's duty to cite his sources, the student should ensure that he credits the author for any material he uses. Copying material without citing sources is plagiarism -- which is not protected under the fair use doctrine. The original author always has the right to claim authorship of portions of a project that were copied. Likewise, the author can lawfully prevent the use of her name if her original works are distorted or mutilated.

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Examples of Fair Use Copyright Laws in the Classroom

References

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Copyright Laws for Students

A copyright protects the creator of a work, such as a writers, artists or musicians, from having their work reprinted or reused without their permission. However, there are some important exceptions in copyright law that allow portions of a copyrighted work to be used without the copyright owner's permission. Some of these exceptions allow the use of copyrighted work for academic purposes, like research or teaching. It is important for students to understand these exceptions, as violating a copyright can result in an expensive legal battle.

Song Lyrics & Copyright Laws

Copyright law protects all aspects of an artistic work, as long as the work is original and has been reduced to a tangible medium. Song lyrics, for example, are protected as soon as they are recorded, whether in audio or written form. Although you don’t need to register your song lyrics with the U.S. Copyright Office to enjoy copyright protection, registration makes it easier to prove that you wrote the lyrics before the infringer did and allows you to collect damages without proving economic harm.

Fair Use Copyright Laws for Education

Copyright laws restrict individuals from using, copying or otherwise reproducing copyrighted materials without permission from the author. Copyrighted materials may include books, publications, films, multimedia works, photographs and works of art. Fair use provisions allow use of such materials in certain situations, including teaching, scholarship and educational research. These provisions aim to balance the legitimate rights of copyright owners to protect their work against the public interest. The relevant laws are set out in Section 107 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

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