Copyright & Fair Use

Carroll County Public Schools maintains high ethical standards and is committed to preparing our 21st century learners to be good digital citizens. In order to foster ethical digital citizenship, teachers serve as students’ primary role model. This page is designed to provide teachers a professional development resource to ensure compliance with copyright laws and the educational fair use guidelines.

Copyright Overview

Intellectual Property is defined as distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized and the corresponding fields of law.  Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs.

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work.  In most jurisdictions copyright arises upon fixation and does not need to be registered.  Copyright owners have the exclusive statutory right to exercise control over copying and other exploitation of the works for a specific period of time, after which the work is said to enter the public domain.  Uses covered under limitations and exceptions to copyright, such as fair use, do not require permission from the copyright owner.  All other uses require permission.  Copyright owners can license or permanently transfer or assign their exclusive rights to others.

Copyright begins the moment the author puts his idea in a tangible form. All original works are protected by copyright whether it contains a © copyright notice or not. Since 1988, all materials are automatically copyrighted, as soon as they are fixed in a final form. Consequently, copyright applies to original works including:

  • print material – poetry, sheet music, novels, architectural designs
  • audio material – recorded music performances
  • visual material – plays, paintings, sculptures, photographs, choreography
  • electronic material – CD-ROMs, video games, videos, software code

If someone else wrote it, drew it, sang it, composed it or designed it, consider it copyrighted.


Educational Fair Use Overview

Fair use is a special provision (under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976) that allows reproduction and other uses of copyrighted works “as is” under certain conditions for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.  Fair use allows for these individuals to use copyrighted material in an educational setting as long as it is not used too often or too much of the original work is used.  Fair use extends to how teachers use Web 2.0 tools and any other digital materials.  In general, fair use of relatively small amounts of copyrighted materials is allowed for educational purposes as long as it is not going to be sold or used repeatedly.  Apply these four basic guidelines to determine if you are following the Fair Use provision:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature, or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.


You must receive permission to post any content online that is copyright-protected. This may include text, images, or any content that is taken from other sites. (Here is a good article with more information on using content found on the Internet.) This may also include content that is taken from print sources. Using content that has a copyright  without proper permission is a serious matter and could have legal ramifications. If in doubt, consult your media specialist. Do not post student artwork (paintings, stories, poetry, etc.) on the web without written permission from the student or parents.  If you would like to include graphics or images that are copyright-friendly, Creative CommonsPics4Learning, and using a Bing image or Google image search that you filter for Creative Commons licenses are good places to start. You still are expected to cite all sources you use. Creative Commons has made this a bit easier with this link to a search for content and includes the proper citation for the image you select.


In addition, this page will help you learn to properly attribute Creative Commons resources.


Additional Resources

Please ask your Media Specialist for additional support and resources.

Simpson, Carol. Copyright for Schools: A Practical Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth, 2010. Print.

Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Educators

CyberBee website

Copyright Kids website

An Educator’s Guide to Intellectual Property

The Internet is Free, Right? What Can You Legally Use?