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Reading excerpts on U.S. copyright law (2)

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Copyright: Frequently Asked Questions


A professor likes to use short clips from a variety of films to illustrate her class lectures. She would like to create a compilation of these scenes on DVD. Having such a compilation will make it easier for her to use the clips in class. The original films are owned by the university library, and are available in DVD format. The DVDs of the films contain access controls to prevent copying. This makes it impossible to copy clips without employing technology designed to circumvent these copying prevention measures. Is it permissible for the professor to use such circumvention technology to make a compilation of film clips to accompany her lectures?


As you know, digital technology has enabled the circumvention of devices installed to restrict access to copyrighted works. To address such circumvention and other problems, Congress in 1998 passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Section 1201 of the Act prohibits the circumvention of access control devices, such as password codes, encryption, and scrambling, which are used to protect the rights of copyright owners. There is an exemption to the Act’s prohibition against circumvention, however. According to the exemption issued by the U.S. Copyright Office in 2006, circumvention is permissible for audiovisual works included in the educational library of a college or university’s film or media studies department, as long as such circumvention is for the purpose of making compilations of portions of works for educational use in the classroom by media studies or film professors.

As you can see, the exemption narrowly targets film and media studies teaching. Thus, the answer to your question depends on whether the course is taught under the aegis of the film or media studies department. Specifically, if a professor is in the film or media studies department, and the DVDs of the films are included in the educational library of one of those departments, then it should be permissible to circumvent the access controls on the films in order to put together the compilation. If, however, the course is offered in another department or taught by a professor not in the film or media studies department, it appears that the exemption would not apply. Without knowing these details about the professor and her department, it is not possible to determine whether or not the exemption applies.

Another consideration in this case involves the fair use concepts of the amount and substantiality of the portion used, in relationship to the copyrighted work as a whole. Even if the exemption does apply in this case, the professor should be careful when selecting the clips to include on her compilation DVD. As a rule, educators creating such a compilation should use only the smallest amount of a work necessary to meet the instructional objectives of the course. They should avoid including portions that are too large and central to the creative essence of the copyrighted work.

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