Digital Rights

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  • An instructor would like to obtain digital rights to post a film online for a course. However, I am trying to find the producer and every company that I contact has a phone number that is no longer in service or does not own the digital rights. Does this mean that I am out of luck and the instructor will not be able to use the film?

    Thanks for any help you can provide!
  • As an initial matter, you should be aware that there is no separate thing called "digital rights" except for a special right carved out for the public performance of sound recordings. What you are asking for are reproduction and distribution rights; the use of the term"digital rights" may have confused some of those from whom you have sought permission, who can not own a right that does not exist.

    If you are still unable to obtain permission after posing the question more accurately, there are some copyright exceptions that may help your professor. The Teach Act, found in section 110(2) of the copyright act, would probably permit streaming of a "reasonable and limited" portion of the film, as long as access was restricted to students registered for the course and the other requirements listed in 110(2) were met. If the requirements of TEACH cannot be met, fair use (found in section 107) is a possibility, although it is my opinion that fair use would allow your professor to use only a small portion, probably smaller than what would be allowed under TEACH. I do not think either of these exceptions would permit the use of the entire film, although I am aware that some in higher education disagree about that.

    You can find resources that help explain TEACH and fair use on the Copyright Advisory Network wiki at
  • I'm in general agreement with the first answer above.
    I'm little impressed by the fact that some in the academic world think that fair use allows reproduction of an entire work for teaching. This seems like overreaching. Here are a couple of things to consider.

    The law (Section 107) says that several factors are to be considered in determining if a use is fair, "including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes."

    Congress' comment that came along with this law says that the moneymaking or nonprofit "character of an activity, while not conclusive . . . should be weighed along with other factors in fair use decisions."
    I think that means that being nonprofit in purpose doesn't mean you have a blank check to copy what you want.

    A copyright law professor wrote: Fair use usually excuses "reasonable unauthorized appropriations" when the use did not impair the economic value of the original work. I don't see how your use would harm sales of the original work, but I also think that "reasonable appropriations" means you take a little here and a little there. You don't take the whole thing and you don't take the very heart of the work, either.
  • It's going to depend on the situation. The statute also specifically mentions multiple copies for classroom use. Different universities reflect this in different ways. For example, some will allow copies of a work for a single semester and then require purchase. Sometimes, the use of the entire work could be a fair use.

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