UMD Library Video Contest - Copyright Guidance

Copyright law can be tricky, and many people, including lawyers and judges, disagree about the details, but anyone who produces some form of expression that’s recorded in a fixed form (something written, a video, a piece of art) has to be aware of what copyright law says they can do, if they are planning to incorporate something previously done (e.g. background music, images, etc.) into their work.

As a video maker who is submitting a video to our contest, you are responsible for following copyright law according to your own honest interpretation of it. As a starting point, however, we thought we would provide some basic guidance on what copyright law permits you to do in a video.

Anything that you create yourself – by shooting video or creating music or sound effects – is automatically copyrighted by you, meaning that you have the right to use it and you have the right to give other people the right to use it. (The library asks you to sign a release that gives us permission to show your video for promotional purposes.)

Many video makers want to add things to their videos that already exist – usually music but also images and video segments. Generally speaking, it is against copyright law to do this unless you (a) first get permission to use it from the copyright owner, or (b) know for a fact that it is in the “public domain” (available for anyone to use). Reasons that things can be in the public domain include that the copyright has expired or that it was produced by the Federal government, among others. You can often use something that is under a Creative Commons license, which means that the copyright owner grants everyone certain rights to use it.

There are exceptions to this basic rule that fall under the principle known as “fair use.” Fair use can include things like quoting someone briefly in a text, using a tune or a logo for satirical purposes, and other minor examples. There is rarely a clear yes or no answer to the question of whether something counts as a fair use exception to copyright law, but in order to make the claim that something is fair use, if you want to do this, you need to do an honest and thoughtful “four factor analysis” that weighs the example of fair use against the four factors, or considerations, that legally define it. You are free to incorporate copyrighted work into your video based on a fair use claim, but your analysis should be careful and honest, and you should keep in mind that you are the responsible party who is risking a legal disagreement with a copyright holder (however unlikely that may be). In the event of a legal disagreement, it is to your great advantage to be able to show that you have done an honest four-factor analysis prior to using the material.

One thing that is important to note is that even though you are making your video in a college setting, the usual exceptions to copyright law that apply to educational uses may not apply to your video, since it is going to be on YouTube and will be seen outside of a classroom setting. So when you read about copyright and what you can do or can’t do, for your own safety you should ignore the things that talk about greater leeway for educational uses.

For further reading on the topic of copyright and making videos, we recommend these two articles from the Center for Social Media:

For additional information about copyright, please contact a reference librarian.

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