(Apologies for the table layout!)

Copyright and Digital Media in Education


Basic Issues





Basic Issues

Copyright laws give authors (and others they authorize) the exclusive right to control their creations:

  • to reproduce the work,
  • to prepare derivative works or forms of the work,
  • to distribute copies,
  • to perform or display the work publicly.

The author's rights have limitations -- sometimes known as "user's rights." These limitations include Fair Use and the exemptions provided for face-to-face education and distance education.

Fair Use is deliberately unspecified in the law, because the details of Fair Use evolve as new technologies evolve. The law's provisions regarding fair use recognize that fair use is a legitimate limitation to the author's exclusive rights and that it is up to the courts to determine what constitutes fair use in any particular case.

Professor [Melville] Nimmer notes: Perhaps no more precise guide can be stated than Joseph McDonald's clever paraphrase of the Golden Rule: Take not from others to such an extent and in such a manner that you would be resentful if they so took from you. This equitable rule of reason permits courts to avoid rigid application of the copyright statute when, on occasion, it would stifle the very creativity which that law is designed to foster.

From the Supreme Court's decision in Harper & Row, Publishers Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. at 550 n.3 (citations and quotations omitted).

Last modified:
Jay C. Treat, Ph.D.