Take Care Before You Share: Issue #1 Digital Content

Introducing a new blog series from your Clayton State University Library. Take Care Before You Share is inspired by Fair Use Week 2015. Sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries, Fair Use Week honors the “doctrine of fair use and the important role this limitation on copyright plays in achieving the Constitutional purpose of intellectual property rights: to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” The scope of fair use, copyright, and intellectual property, though, is too broad to cover in one week, so we will continue this conversation throughout the academic year, because, like the ARL, we believe that every week is Fair Use Week. Our first post focuses on digital content in the classroom. In the future, we will discuss other topics related to copyright, fair use, plagiarism, and academic integrity as they relate to the classroom, both face-to-face and online.


The growth of technology has dramatically altered the landscape of academic scholarship worldwide. In recent years here at Clayton State the availability of electronic resources and resource sharing services has allowed our academic community to supplement course material with articles, multimedia, unique digital collections, book chapters, and other subscription content not readily available to individual researchers and students. While this is an overall positive thing, care must be taken when sharing this rich content with others, even within the Clayton State community. As stewards of information, the Clayton State Library faculty supports the ethical sharing of content that enriches the teaching and learning experiences of our patrons.

To kick things off properly, we’ll start with a quiz

For the following examples, select which are A-OK and which are Big NO-NO’s.

Ready? Let’s go!

  1. You find an article in a library database that you’d like your students to read. You post a PDF of the article in your D2L course.
  2. You scan the 10th and final chapter from your favorite book that is no longer in print and post it on your faculty webpage.
  3. You create a reading list for your students using permalinks to articles in library databases.
  4. You digitize a personally owned film that you show in your face to face classes and post it in D2L for your online students to view.
  5. You use 30 seconds of your favorite jam for the intro to your recorded lecture shared in D2L.

Click here to check your answers, and come back for explanations.

When determining whether something falls under the doctrine of fair use, we need to use our best judgment guided by the following principles. First we need to consider where the content came from, or who owns it. Digital content refers to anything accessible using a computer such as a webpage or an electronic file, even if it started out in the physical realm. This content can be library-owned or licensed, owned by you, or borrowed from another library. Next, we consider how you plan to share the content. Different methods include direct email of a file, uploading a file to a webpage or course site, or sharing a link to the content. Lastly, we look at how much you are sharing of the original content.

Generally speaking, Clayton State Library owned and licensed content may be shared with anyone within our academic community. However, there are right and wrong ways to share this content. Consider Question 1 above. In this example, the content is licensed for access and use by authorized users. But, posting a PDF is a NO-NO based on the license agreement. Rather, you should use the permalink provided by the database. Therefore, Question 3 is A-OK. For instructions on how to copy and share permalinks, please see: http://clayton.libguides.com/electronic-resources/sharing

The second quiz question concerns how much to share. As long as the chapter is less than 10% of the total work, it is probably A-OK to share out-of-print material. This is the same whether it is a library owned book or a personal copy. However, this is only permissible for one semester. Use over multiple semester requires permission from the publisher. For instructions on requesting publisher permission, please see: http://copyright.columbia.edu/copyright/permissions

Question 4 is a Big NO-NO. Converting a DVD to an electronic video file format, such as an .mp4 or .wmv file, violates Copyright law. If you wish to convert multimedia formats, you must downgrade rather than upgrade. For example, converting a DVD to VHS is A-OK, but not the other way around. Similarly, you may convert a CD to a cassette tape, but you may not convert a CD to .mp3 or .wav file. Extra credit: what if you purchase a video from iTunes or a service like Amazon Instant Video? Is it A-OK or a Big NO-NO to share this content in D2L? Answer: Even if you paid for the content, it is a Big NO-NO to share it in your course site. Instead, look for multimedia in the public domain or in library collections. For tips on finding and sharing digital multimedia licensed for authorized users please see: http://clayton.libguides.com/electronic-resources/sharing

Last but not least, Question 5 is probably A-OK. As long as your clip is 30 seconds or less and used for only one semester, you do not have to request permission from the copyright holder.

These are but a few examples of sharing scenarios that you might encounter when selecting support materials for your courses. If we sound unsure of ourselves with the use of the word probably, this is because while copyright law is exhaustive and complex, it is not prescriptive. The Fair Use guidelines, are just that, guidelines. They are not hard and fast rules. Most sharing scenarios need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. For  best results, consult a copyright professional or a librarian who can direct you to appropriate resources.

Here are some helpful resources to start with:




ANSWERS: Q1: NO-NO; Q2: probably A-OK; Q3: A-OK; Q4: NO-NO; Q5: probably A-OK. So, how did you do? Let us know in the comments!

Look for Take Care Before You Share Issue #2 where we’ll discuss academic integrity in the classroom.


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