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ENGL 3223: New York in Ten Objects

This a research guide created to support research in History of New York in Ten Objects.

Fair Use in Media Project

General rules

Fair use can be tricky for media projects because often the materials you are working with (film and audio clips) have multiple authors, and the content itself may be at varying stages of copyright. For this reason it is important to be as accurate as possible when citing your sources. Here are three things to consider when using copyrighted material in media:

  • Always cite the works you use in your projects. This includes video, audio clips, images, documents, quotes, and ideas you found in your research. Even if you do not intend to publish or put your work online, it is good practice to cite all your sources.
  • Use small amounts of quoted texts, audio or video files. Stick to around 5-10 seconds or 10% of the original work.
  • If you are posting your project online, avoid making the material public unless you’ve secured permission from the rights holders in writing, or you are certain the material is in the public domain, or meets the standards of fair use. 

Intellectual Property and Copyright Basics

Intellectual Property and Copyright Basics


What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is any creative or intellectual material (including things like blog posts, tweets, audio clips, snapshots, doodles, etc.) transferred from idea to physical form by an individual or individuals. 


What is Copyright?

Copyright is a creator’s exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and publicly perform and display their works." Copyright applies to almost all types of creative work, and, in the US is bestowed automatically, without registration. Recipes, fashion, and folks medicines are examples of creative output not protected by copyright.


How long do Copyright Protections Last?

Copyright protection generally lasts as long as the author’s life plus 70 years. Copyright for “works for hire” (works created by an employee for an individual or institution) lasts either 95 years after the date of publication or 120 years from creation; whichever is shorter. However, duration rules change somewhat for works created before 1978 and for foreign works. After copyright has expired the work enters the public domain and is fair to use without permission.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is an exception is US copyright law that allows certain exceptions to the author’s exclusive rights to their creative work. Fair Use is intentionally vague. The use of copyrighted material is considered fair by meeting majority of the following factors. They are:

  • Purpose: Will the use of copyrighted material be made for scholarship, research, teaching, criticism, comment, or news reporting?
  • Amount: Will only a small portion of the work be used? Is that portion “the heart” of the copyrighted work?
  • Nature: Will the use of copyrighted material benefit the public? Is the copyrighted work unpublished?
  • Effect: Will the use of copyrighted material infringe upon the original author or authors ability to benefit from their creation?

Work created in the classroom already meets one of the four factors of fair use. However, some or all of the other three factors need to be considered when creating a work.


What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a licensing system that allows authors to amend traditional US Copyright Law, and let others know how they'd like their work to be used and shared.  A CC license signals the degree to which the creator is allowing their creative content to be used by others. You can find more information on the variety of Creative Commons licenses by visiting


Getting Permission

Getting permission to use a copyrighted work:

Steps to consider

  1. Identify the copyright holder. If you have found material on the open web it is often difficult to identify the true copyright holder. Likewise, sites like Flickr or Google Image Search, which bring together images from a variety of sources, may not provide true or up-to-date information about who holds the copyright of a particular image. It is best to seek out images from reputable image databases like Artstor or Alexander Street Press, or get them directly from the person or institution that holds the copyright. 
  2. Read their “terms of use” page. Institutions often post their “terms of use” or “rights and reproductions” information on their website to give users an understanding of the their requirements when applying for permission to use their copyrighted material.
  3. Write a Permissions and Licensing Request Letter. A good letter will include details about exactly what you intend to use and how your use of the original work will be conveyed. The letter should include:
  • Who you are and your affiliation with Barnard College
  • What work specifically you intend to use (identify the work as completely as possible)
  • Where will you be using the work?
  • When will the work be used? For how long?
  • Why: Explain why you are contacting the person in question so they know that you believe them to be the rights holder. 
  • How you intend to use the work. Is it for commercial purposes or academic? Will you be using the entire work, or only a portion? How will the work will be distributed (online, in print, in a course packet, in a single presentation)?

Keep a Record. Whether your permissions request is approved, ignored or denied, it is important to keep a record of your requests and the rights holder's responses. If the request is approved you may need to refer back to their response to determine if a potential new use is covered by the existing agreement.  Factors that limit use could be the duration of the use, format, size of the audience, as well for the preferred citation when crediting the rights holder.