Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is cutting and pasting images from the internet "Fair Use"?

Well, yesterday I was playing ball with my dog, Denver,(a Sheltie/cattle dog mix), and my mind wandered on to the copyright topic. No, I swear, this really happened, but I guess, like all of you, my mind has been focused on the topic quite often lately. It seems like if you start thinking about copyright, you start thinking that everything you do, academically-speaking, might potentially be a copyright infringement! While I was completing an assignment for another class, I cut and pasted some pictures out of Google image, and I lamented a bit about whether I was “allowed” to do this. The images even said that they may be subject to copyright which of course, heightened my fears of being thrown in the clink for copyright infringement.

After I cleared my head, I cracked open our Copyright for Schools text to see what Simpson had to say about cutting and pasting images from Google. I asked myself if my fair use argument would hold up in court. I examined the four factors that need to be considered:

1. The purpose and character of the use (Why are you using the work or for what purpose? For nonprofit educational use or for criticism or commentary?)

2. The nature of the copyrighted work (Is it factual or creative? and Is it published or not published?)

3. Amount of work used

4. Effect of the use on the market (Are you taking earnings away from the copyright owner/publish?)

Here’s my justification for “fair use.” My purpose for using the image from Google was for nonprofit educational use because I was using the picture in a project for my 504 class to post in a wiki. I wasn’t using it on a logo for something I intended to make money on so #1 was in my favor. I definitely lost some points for fair use on #2 and 3 because I used an entire creative work of an artist, but part of #2 was in my favor since the artist’s rendering was “published” or posted as a Google image so that made me think that the artist might have thought that someone might want to use their image.

Lastly, in “Copyright for Schools,” Simpson says that courts have given #4, the effect on the market, “more importance than the other three even though the law does not indicate that one of the four factors is more significant in a fair use assessment.” That said, I think that the fact that my use of the Google image is going to have little or no effect on the market is the strongest aspect of my fair use argument. Because I am posting the picture in a wiki on a secure network that only my professor and 19 or so classmates will see, I think the likelihood of getting sued by the copyright holder is very unlikely, and if I did get taken to court, I think my fair use argument would hold up.

So, what do you think of my analysis? Have some of you found yourself pondering some of the same copyright dilemmas?


erinanderson said...


I often think about my cutting and pasting of Google images as possible causes of copyright infringement, but I could never be certain. When questioned, I always knew that I would plead the "But I didn't know" defense! No, but seriously, I think that according to the 4 criteria you mentioned, especially when my cutting and pasting always indicated my source, and was for strictly educational purposes (that were not mass-produced, mind you), I am in the clear. Nonetheless, I really liked that you brought up this topic. I hope to hear more (because it certainly pertains hugely to us teachers), in the future!



Becca B. said...

Great question Steph! I too have wondered about my use of images. For example, at our school, we are required to update our teacher edline webpages. Using edline doesn't allow us much creative freedom when it comes to website design. It only allows a very small picture to be uploaded. I can never use a real photo because I would have to play around with adjusting the size for too long so I usually just google "free clip art" and upload a pic. Would this violate fair use?

Steph Herfel said...

Erin and Becca,

Thanks for your thoughts on my ideas on Google images and fair use. I think as long as we analyze the four factors involved for fair use, and the bottom line being that you are not taking profits away from the copyright holder, you have a strong defense.

Erin, your example here screams fair use to me especially if you are just using images to "spruce" up handouts for classroom use. I think sometimes teachers get so accustomed to being allowed to use certain materials without asking for copyright permission that when something doesn't fit the fair use criteria they might accidentally wrongfully use a work.

Becca...interesting question, and my first question would be- Are your edline pages available to the public or are they password protected? I am thinking that probably anyone can access them. I am thinking that free clip art is fair game because it is put out there for the purpose of people to use and is free so you don't have the "effecting the market" issue with that. However, if your pages are indeed accessible to anyone, I would probably caution you from using any other graphics (like Google images that have copyright warnings) on your pages.

I feel like I should definitely add here that I am not a copyright expert so you should definitely consult a lawyer like Fred Von Lohman for a true expert's opinion,LOL.

Your question about clip art really has me thinking who drew those little critters and other pics, and I am wondering if they are regretting not getting a copyright on them or maybe they got paid good money by Microsoft and other companies to design them? Anyways, Becca, I love your calico kitty; We have two calicos, Butters and Cindy Lou Who.

Again, thanks for your comments! :)

Rebecca said...

Honestly, I never really gave cutting and pasting images from the Internet a second thought.

Now, they've gotten a second (and third, fourth, etc). This is a great topic, since it affects so many of us! I know I have used Internet images last minute for MANY student worksheets, examples, websites/webquests, etc. Thanks for all the helpful info!

Louie said...

Steph -

Thanks for bringing up such an important topic. This whole idea of copyright has really seeped into my teaching life! I use online pictures all of the time for presentations to students, worksheets, etc. Before now, I never thought about it. I do feel it fits into fair use simply because of how it is being used and the fact that I am not profiting from it or effecting its value.


Lorena said...

Steph, I have been wondering about pictures on our blogs and haven't gone about adding any for this very reason! Now I know from having read over Erin's blog tonight that we can access images without fear of infringement through creative commons. If I had read more when I began creating my blog, I'd have known this!! Now I just have to figure out how to get them on my blog!

Fair use is defined, it just leaves those gray corners, ya know?!?

Jessica Modrzejewski said...

I was once advised if cutting/pasting an image, to cite the source underneath image. To be honest, if this is legal, not so sure...but it is in fact what I do.
Mrs. M.

Steve Gallick said...

I agree with you that using images from the Internet for EDUCATIONAL purposes is absolutely fair use (my capitalization is just an emphasis, that's all). If it isn't for educational purposes, then the situation becomes a little shadier. Seriously, if teachers weren't protected by "fair use", then most would be in trouble for some type of infringement.