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Copyright toolkit available online

TEACH, copyright laws: what’s fair is fair

by George Spain
Information Services
We all know that downloading copyrighted songs from the Internet is against the law. We know that copying James Bond movies, Harry Potter novels, and Dilbert cartoons is a no-no. But where is the line? What’s fair to copy, use and distribute, and what isn’t? New media technology has blurred the line between “fair use” and infringement even as new laws attempt to deal with the complexity of digital copyrights.
That’s why the University Education Infrastructure Committee, under the leadership of Valerie West, Ed.D., has developed a copyright policy and a Web site that examines such topics as fair use, coursepack development, and the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act. While these may sound like strictly academic discussions, they involve every student, teacher and staffer at MUSC.
MUSC’s new policies have been officially approved. You can access the MUSC Copyright Toolkit at to learn about and sort through the complexities of copyright in the digital publication age.
First, a little background and a few tricky questions that faced policy makers.
Fair use has been around for years, but TEACH is a fairly recent update that further defines how teaching institutions can use copyrighted material in their distance learning environments. In general, accredited nonprofit educational institutions have more leeway in storing and distributing copyrighted materials to officially enrolled, off-campus students—up to a point.
Briefly, fair use covered published, copyrighted works that were duplicated and distributed in traditional face-to-face teaching environments. You could, with exceptions, photocopy a page from a larger work and give handouts to your students without worrying that some international conglomerate would sue you.
Along comes the Internet, online publications, podcasting, etc., and the rules get complicated. Maybe I could photocopy that same page, but could I store it on a server, in another (graphic) format, and make it easy for my students around the country to view? Moreover, could those same students download and keep these materials on their computers? Does it make a difference if I authored the published work?
Could I take an excerpt from an audio or video recording, store that in digital format and then stream that live to my off-campus students? Did the fact that I had stored the entire original work but only made part of it available change my privilege of fair use? Does this mean I would have to put up and take down work in smaller pieces instead of a semester’s worth at one time? Would I be liable if one of my students turned around and made this same work available to a non-student?
All really good questions. One of the main requirements of TEACH is that universities have to answer those questions and others in a publicly available, official institutional policy that students, faculty, and staff have to know, understand, and abide by.

Friday, May 2, 2008
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