| October 9, 2010 | 0 Comments

Recently, a colleague of mines was upset that we didn’t give him credit for a post we did relating to New York rapper Nas about his displeasure with his record label. Initially we contacted the blogger to discuss something totally unrelated to a post that he made to his site about the Nas letter but when he stated “I got the internet on fire” we thought that he had an “exclusive breaking story” only later to find out that it was just a story that he saw at another site. After checking the internet timeline on Google, I realized that not only was he not the originator of the story but there were many other sites reporting it prior to his post.

Should he have received credit for telling us about his post?

After we decided to post the Nas letter and write our own independent opinion of what we thought about the letter. Our colleague felt he should have gotten credit for telling us about something that was already all over the internet.

Just because we didn’t know about it before he mentioned it to us doesn’t mean we were not going to find out about it on our own so for him to be upset about something that was not exclusive to his reporting and giving him credit for posting something that was already on another site is ridiculous and does not warrant an explanation however in an effort to educate our colleague we would like to remind him of what some of the ethical rules are about giving credit & what is plagiarism:

Overview and Contradictions

Research-based writing in American institutions, both educational and corporate, is filled with rules that writers, particularly beginners, aren’t aware of or don’t know how to follow. Many of these rules have to do with research and proper citation. Gaining a familiarity of these rules, however, is critically important, as inadvertent mistakes can lead to charges of plagiarism, which is the un-credited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.

While some cultures may not insist so heavily on documenting sources of words, ideas, images, sounds, etc., American culture does. A charge of plagiarism can have severe consequences, including expulsion from a university or loss of a job, not to mention a writer’s loss of credibility and professional standing. This resource, which does not reflect any official university policy, is designed to help you develop strategies for knowing how to avoid accidental plagiarism. For instructors seeking a key statement on definitions and avoidance on plagiarism, see Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices.

Here Are Some Guidelines for Fair Use

Fair Use

This handout works mostly with 17 U.S.C. § 107 on fair use, which provides the conditions that allow the limited use of copyrighted works. Again, these guidelines are general rather than specific, and courts often determine fair use on a case by case basis. Four things are considered when determining fair use:

  • The Purpose of the Use
  • The Nature of the Copyrighted Work
  • The Amount or Percentage of the Work Used
  • The Effect of the Use on the Original Work

Based on this definition of fair use, some uses of copyrighted works are more likely to be protected than others. Again, there are few hard and fast rules concerning educational approach. Uses meeting these conditions are more likely, though not guaranteed, to be protected.

The purpose of the use is educational.

Many people assume that any educational use of a copyrighted work is legal. That is not accurate. However, the law does recognize the unique situation of non-profit educational institutions when it comes to fair use issues. Section 107 specifically distinguishes between commercial and educational use. Therefore, teachers and students are more protected when using copyrighted works for classroom assignments, lessons, or projects. Purposes that are specifically mentioned in Section 107 include “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.” Almost any unauthorized use of a copyrighted work that makes money will not be protected under fair use.

The new use is not widely available.

Fair use is more likely to apply when the new use is available for a limited time to a small group of people. Therefore, showing part of a movie in the classroom is more likely to be protected than posting the same clip to the internet. Similarly, using copyrighted images in a classroom PowerPoint presentation is more acceptable than making the presentation available online or putting the images on a website. Therefore, when determining the use of copyrighted work, consider time, access, and durability. Make the new use available for the shortest amount of time to the smallest group possible. Prevent others from duplicating the work for further use. Keep copyrighted works off the internet, or place them behind password protection to avoid outside access.

The copyrighted work was legally obtained.

When using a copyrighted work, get the original version legally. Buy the DVD, CD, or photo instead of pirating it off the internet. Use a legally purchased film clip or song rather than one downloaded off YouTube or Limewire. Purchase a photo instead of taking it off Google image search. This ensures that the copyright holder receives some funding for the use.

The use does not affect the copyright owner.

Uses of copyrighted works should not interfere with the copyright holder’s use of the work. This means that the new use should not make any money or be available to a large audience. Uses that allow others to access or reproduce the work, such as images or a pdf file posted on a website, can also be detrimental to the copyright owner.

The use is partial.

Reproducing only a small part of a copyrighted work is more acceptable than using an entire work. Try to use less than 10% of a movie, television show, music, or other media. Though image use does not conform easily to this standard, consider using only a few photos or illustrations rather than an artist’s entire collection. As a rule of thumb, using a smaller portion of a work is more likely to be protected. Furthermore, take only what is necessary for the purposes of the new use.

The use is transformative.

Courts often favor uses that transform the copyrighted work into something new by adding criticism or commentary to change the meaning or message of the original. Educational use is protected to allow creativity and intellectual expression, so educational expansion of the copyrighted work is more likely to be protected. Contribute commentary or analysis to an image, or include it as part of a collage or parody. Incorporate film or music as part of a larger work, or edit and remix the clips to produce a new product. Transforming a work as part of the educational process helps it fall under fair use.

The work is published.

Fair use will more likely apply to published works than unpublished works. The law wants to give the original copyright holder the rights to the first publication of a work, meaning that a work should never be used by a non-copyright holder before its publication.

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Hip Hop Historian and accomplished photo journalist

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