Common Copyright Assignment Mistakes

The instructors of INF 312 find some common problems in student submissions to one of our assignments. Here’s some advice to students. I expect that it may be useful to others.

  • Just because it’s educational does not mean that it’s automatically a fair use. I mention this fact in the copyright module, bolded. The educational purpose of your assignment is part of a fair use argument, but it can’t be the sum of a fair use argument.
  • The public domain is awesome. The public domain can also be a little bit tricky. Consider classical music- Vivaldi’s Allegro is in the public domain. The London Philharmonic 2002 recording of Vivaldi’s Allegro is not in the public domain. A new expression of an underlying work in the public domain might have its own copyright associated with it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use the work, but you have to have a different justification for doing so, or you have to use the original work that is actually in the public domain.
  • Works created by the federal government are in the public domain- but not every work on a government website was created by the government, including portraits. Images might have copyright associated with them even if you find them on an official federal government site. Unless it specifically says otherwise, don’t assume that you’re free to use it. Again, you can make a fair use argument- and chances are, a pretty strong one- with such works, but you actually have to make that type of argument.
  • Not every Creative Commons license is identical. Some of them specifically require you to use “Share-Alike” when you license your derivative work. Some of them specifically mention that they don’t allow derivative works. You need to pay attention to the specific terms of the license when licensing your own content.
  • Just because you have a picture of yourself does not mean that you have copyright in the picture. You may have some rights of publicity in the picture, but that doesn’t mean that you can do anything you want with it. If you took the picture yourself, then you have copyright in it. If you didn’t, then someone else does. Saying that “it’s a picture of me” or that it’s a picture of you that you have at your house/on your computer is not a copyright argument.

That’s a bit on the restrictive side of a copyright argument. We also see problems in the other direction. I’ll talk about those in a later post.