I just finished up the class on Copyright for Educators and Librarians (see video introduction above). I wasn’t sure how they could stretch this topic into five weeks but now that I’ve taken the class I understand. Copyright is an insanely complicated topic. A lot of what we think we know is just plain wrong.
For example, what do you know about fair use? I’d been told that if you use less than 100 words from any text, it falls under fair use. Guess what? That’s not true. Fair use doesn’t state a word count, a page count or a number of seconds of film.
Fair use is designed to protect freedom of speech. Because of fair use, you are allowed to report on something, review it and even use it in teaching or research. Sometimes something you want to use for a commercial purpose falls under fair use. In short, your use has to be “transformative.” You have to build on and somehow go beyond the original.
Just how much you can use, or if you can use something at all, depends a lot on how you plan to use it and the nature of the original work. If something is highly creative, like poetry or a painting, you won’t be able to use as much if any of it. Nonfiction is easier to use because you can copyright expressions of fact but not the facts themselves.
If your use means that the original creator will be less able to profit from her own work, your use is less likely to be fair use. Interestingly enough, you can often get away with using a small duplicate of a work of art because a small image is no substitute for a full-sized painting, poster or photograph.
All of this aside, the publication for which you are writing likely has their own set of guidelines. If they say “100 words” is the limit, then that’s the rule you have to use. And, in the meantime, signing up for this class would be a great way to educate yourself.