Several times a week, we get requests (or it comes to our attention) about doing things that may violate copyright. It is important to remember that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we CAN do something. Let me explain.

It is very easy to purchase a music track (song) through iTunes. Once that song has been downloaded, it is very easy to “share” (copy that file to someone else’s computer) song. However, that is blatantly illegal.

Teachers frequently feel that they are free to use anything that they want because they are covered by “fair use”. Fair use does cover the usage of some content, but it is not a catch all that protects everyone from everything. Fair use can be defined through the U.S. Copyright office (

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

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

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Here is part of the license from iTunes:

(i) You shall be authorized to use iTunes Products only for personal, noncommercial use.

Personal use doesn’t cover using it in classroom.

Again, this can be a complicated process. Technology frequently moves faster than the law. However, it is important that we model appropriate behavior for our students. In part, this means that we must stay in within the confines of the law.

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