Many of the aspects of the US Copyright Law are broad, especially in the area of fair use. Part of this allows for the essential freedom of expression provided for in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. It also allows for free speech, free inquiry, and the open exchange of ideas that leads to progress. However, it can be very frustrating because many areas of the copyright law are not clear-cut in nature, which means that each possible use of a copyrighted work must be carefully reviewed.
In an effort to assist the public with interpreting copyright laws, many scholars, organization, and associations have worked together to come up with Best Practices and Guidelines to use when interpreting the laws and determining fair use. Although you may find some of these best practices and guidelines helpful, it is important to understand that these guidelines and best practices are not part of the copyright law. Most are suggestions only. Also, many of these guidelines and best practices may be outdated, may have expired, do not encompass everyone or all organizations, or some organizations or associations may have decided to opt out of these guidelines and best practices.
When looking at guidelines and best practices, it is important to note their distinction. In general, many guidelines will be clear-cut rules of what can and cannot be done with a particular type of source (ex. Videos). Many of these guidelines are created by the industry after their analysis of fair use and the copyright laws. Their analyses may be very restrictive in nature. It is important to understand that these guidelines are not legally binding!
Best practices are written by groups of scholars and experts from many fields. When creating best practices, these scholars and experts do not create specific rules for using different items. Instead, together as a group, they provide suggestions after reviewing common activities and uses. As with guidelines, best practices are not legally binding. One key difference between the two is that best practices acknowledges the flexibility of fair use. Also, many judges’ decisions include commentary about consulting best practices, so it is worth reviewing them and considering them.
To learn more about key best practices that may affect areas of education, visit the following resources:
There are a number of other Best Practice Codes other than those listed on this page. Visit the Center for Media & Social Impact for a list of other Best Practice Codes for dance, documentaries, using media in teaching or publishing, journalism, and orphan works.
The information presented in this guide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as legal advice or counsel. Faculty, staff, students, and others associated with the college should consult an attorney for advice concerning their individual copyright situations and needs.