“…(A) digital story is a short (3-5 minute) movie which uses images, voice, and music to tell a story. There are a variety of media that can be used to create digital stories and a variety of reasons for creating them. ” – The Ohio State University Digital Storytelling Program
Authors of digital stories remix and reuse materials to create something new: a short video with a personal narrative. Authors write and record their own narration and often use personal photos, video, and sound; however, they frequently incorporate copyrighted materials from other sources in order to develop powerful digital stories. For example, a narrative may require abstract images to help convey a particular idea or emotion, or a specific element of meaningful culture such as a quote from a favorite book or photo of a particular event.
The stories produced in connection with the OSU Digital Storytelling Program are posted on YouTube and shared on campus through occasional viewings. In order to promote legal use of third party materials and avoid takedown requests, participants in the OSU Digital Storytelling Program are encouraged to source materials as much as possible from the public domain, licensed collections (e.g. Creative Commons photos on Flickr), or create things themselves. However, there are times when an author wants or needs to use copyrighted material, and wants to rely on fair use or seek permission in order to proceed.
As defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, fair use is a defense against charges of copyright infringement determined through the analysis and application of the four fair use factors:
- 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.
The fair use exception is quite broad and can apply to a wide variety of uses (which could include digital storytelling) but the lack of specificity can make it difficult to ascertain whether or not a particular use may qualify as fair use. Those considering fair use, should employ a fair use checklist to conduct an analysis and weigh the criteria favoring and opposing fair use (our video provides more information and an example of doing a fair use analysis).
Fair use and your role as a digital storyteller
As a digital storyteller, you may have the option to rely on fair use depending on what material you are using, and how and why you are using it. A fair use analysis will help you evaluate your answers to those questions.
The first factor of fair use is concerned with the purpose and character of a proposed use. As an author, you should think carefully about the purpose of your digital story. Is it educational? Are you commenting on, criticizing, or parodying the copyrighted work you wish to use? These types of purposes favor fair use. Transformative use also weighs in favor of fair use. If you use a copyrighted work in your digital story for a purpose other than which it was originally intended for, you may be able to make an argument for transformative use of that material. Using your favorite song as a soundtrack to your digital story is not a transformative use, but criticizing the lyrics of another song for its message of oppression or intolerance could be a transformative use.
Ask yourself whether you need a particular work in order to accomplish the purpose of your digital story. If you simply need some piece of material that depicts archery as a recreational activity, then you do not need to use a clip of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. You can likely find a public domain or Creative Commons licensed photo, or even take your own photo. On the other hand, if your digital story critiques or comments on the character of Katniss Everdeen specifically and how she contributes to the reversal of traditional gender roles in the Hunger Games, then you may actually need a clip or photo from the films to support your narrative.
The second factor of fair use requires you to assess the nature of the work you are using. Is it factual or fiction? Published or unpublished? Is it highly creative? Many materials likely to appear in a digital story, such as music and photos, are considered highly creative works; this weighs against fair use, but it could potentially be balanced out by the other factors.
The third factor of fair use considers the amount and substantiality of the portion of the copyrighted work being used. Ask yourself how much of a particular work you need to use in order to accomplish your purpose. In your digital story about how the television show The Walking Dead saved your life because it inspired you to prepare for emergencies, will a still image from the show suffice, or does your story comment on a particular scene that you need to show as a video clip in order to fulfill your purpose? To strengthen your argument in favor of fair use, use only the amount necessary to fulfill the purpose of your story.
The “substantiality” component of the third fair use factor refers to the significance of the material you want to use in relation to the entire copyrighted work. Could the scene you want to use from The Walking Dead be considered particularly significant to the show or a particular episode? This is sometimes referred to as using the “heart of the work”. Another way to phrase this could be: “how big of a spoiler is it?” Showing the death of a main character or major events from a season finale could be considered the heart of the work and weaken your argument for fair use (particularly if you did not necessarily need to use that particular scene to accomplish the purpose of your digital story).
The fourth factor of fair use considers the effect your use of the material could have on the potential market for or value of the original work. Could your use impact the copyright owner’s ability to profit from his or her work? Digital stories have the potential to cause a detrimental effect on the market for a work because they are accessible to the public online, and they will remain available for a long time. For example, using a popular copyrighted song as a soundtrack for your video could impair the market for that song by providing a substitute for purchasing the song as an MP3. Viewers could simply play the digital story whenever they wanted to listen to the song, as opposed to going out to buy their own copy.
You must consider all four factors of fair use when evaluating whether or not you have a strong argument in favor of fair use. No single factor is more important than the others; for example, an educational purpose does not automatically qualify a proposed use as fair use. Additionally, although each factor is equally important to a fair use analysis, checklist criteria should not be tallied up with a simple “majority rules” determination. You should keep an eye out for significant problems that could outweigh other criteria, such as a particularly damaging effect on the market for a work.
Still have questions about fair use? Contact the OSU Libraries’ Copyright Resources Center for assistance:
By Jessica Meindertsma, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries