Crucial Copyright Information Available to Faculty, Students

Crucial Copyright Information Available to Faculty, Students

Posted: September 19, 2011

Throughout the academic year, Buffalo State faculty members inundate Melaine Kenyon with questions related to copyright and fair use. Common questions include, “Can I use this image in my book?” “Can I show this film outside my classroom?” and “Can I scan a few chapters of a book to post on the web server?”

In the increasingly ambiguous arena of copyright law, it’s a good thing faculty members are seeking out Kenyon, director of instructional technology, who has become Buffalo State’s expert on copyright law.

Since her previous career as a librarian, Kenyon has been passionate about copyright issues. She earned a certification in copyright management and leadership from the Center for Intellectual Property (CIP), part of the University of Maryland University College, and she continues to take online courses through the CIP.

“I think it’s fascinating,” Kenyon said, while discussing the ins and outs of the increasingly complex field.

Publishers take copyright infringement seriously, especially with more copy being disseminated digitally. What is happening in publishing is similar to the crackdown on free downloads by the music and movie industries a few years ago.

“Confusion comes from the fact that the law can be interpreted in a lot of different ways,” Kenyon said. “Even lawyers don’t all agree on what is a copyright violation when it comes to fair use.”

The fair use doctrine, part of federal copyright law, lists purposes for which reproduction of works may be considered permissible, as well as factors to consider in determining fair use.

The classroom exemption allows a professor to show a film to students in a classroom setting, for instance, as long as the film is a legally obtained copy and is associated with the course materials. But many who work in education believe they are protected by fair use doctrine simply because their work is educational in nature. Not so.

An ongoing federal case at George State University in Atlanta should serve as a cautionary tale for everyone in academia. In 2008, three academic publishers, with support from the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Clearance Center, sued for copyright infringement, contending that the school violated copyright laws by providing course reading material to students in digital format without seeking permission from the publisher or paying licensing fees. Georgia State officials quoted in the New York Times said they believed all of their practices were covered under the fair use doctrine. The case is awaiting a decision.

The alarming part is that the publishers sued individual defendants—top administrators and a librarian—to get around sovereign immunity that protects state institutions from federal lawsuits. Since then, lawsuits against other educational institutional have ensued.

One of the biggest caveats is that copyright law hasn’t changed since 1976, while technological opportunities in education have changed immensely. A common scenario: An instructor may want to post video footage that he has shown in the classroom to the web. Unless he obtains the rights first, he could be in violation of copyright law.

Another sticky area is attribution. “Just because you cite something does not mean you have the right to use it,” Kenyon said.

Kenyon pointed out that she doesn’t have a law degree and sometimes must refer people with copyright questions to an attorney. Faculty members who have specific questions requiring a legal response should contact the Finance and Management Office.

However, all faculty members have key resources at their fingertips. Buffalo State is an institutional member of the CIP, and by extension, so are its employees. Faculty members can create individual accounts that provide access to copyright experts and an online help desk, as well as webinars, newsletters, legislative updates, online interest groups, and more.

And Kenyon has created a website of Copyright Education Resources for students and faculty.

To learn more, Kenyon strongly encourages faculty and staff members to participate in CIP’s online Community Orientation on Wednesday, September 28, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Please contact Kenyon for instructions on how to set up an individual account, including required codes and passwords.

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