American Poety - Classroom set of copies

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  • I have a Language Arts teacher who would like to create his own collection of American authored poems to use with his language arts classes. Whatever poems he gathers together he plans on putting in a sprial bound booklet for reuse each year. The students would not be paying for the booklet and would only have it for the course of the class.

    What is the best way to go about finding out which poems are in the public domain and which ones need permission? If permission is needed is there an easy way to obtain permission for poems from multiple authors? The teacher wants to use the entire poetic work.

    Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.
  • Public domain:

    You appear to think that anything not in the public domain requires permission. This isn't necessarily so, although I suspect that it is in your case. Fair use allows you to use works without permission.

    Briefly, there are four factors:
    1. Character of use: educational vs. commercial. Clearly in your favor.
    2. Nature of work: creative vs. factual. Clearly against you.
    3. Amount used: entire poem. Clearly against you.
    4. Market effect: debatable. I don't have enough information to form an opinion. I suspect it works against you primarily because you are distributing multiple copies.

    So, my gut feeling is that the use is not fair, but I don't know enough to make a real determination.

    Perhaps the most used source for permission:
  • Your example sounds alot like a coursepack -- an instructor-created compilation of various materials required for each student enrolled in an official school course. The inclusion of copyrighted materials in coursepacks is allowed because the agent making the copies -- usually a Kinkos or other campus copy center -- pays the licensing fee to the rights owner for the privilege of inlcuding the material in the coursepack. The agent then passes that cost on to the student in the form of a fee for the coursepack.

    Though you are not passing any charges on to the student, what matters is that your institution is making multiple copies of copyrighted works, distributing them, and then retaining the copies on an ongoing basis for future reuse. If I were in your shoes, I would be seeking a way to gain permission for this use.

    The first step in gaining permissions would be to gather all the requisite bibliographic information for each poem -- author, publisher, date of publication, etc. Since poems are rarely published on their own, you may need the bibliographic information for the collection or compilation where the poem was published. Whether you use a permission agency like Copyright Clearance Center or choose to seek permissions on your own, you will need the full bibliographic information in any event.
  • I will note that while coursepacks by for-profit companies require this type of licensing, coursepacks by instructors may fall under different guidelines, particularly when regarding the multiple copies for classroom use aspect of fair use.

    That being said, I tend to agree with the others- you'll need to judge pieces individually if you want to rely on fair use, and a better bet would probably be permission. Circular 21 from the Copyright Office lists some guidelines for fair use of poetry developed by publishers, but I feel they are overly restrictive. You might want to take a look anyway for your own information.

    I also feel that your fair use argument gets weaker and weaker the more the compilation is used. The more often it's used, the greater the effect on the market.

    Any other interpretations?

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