High school students put on a show each year for the public that is a parody or satire. Is there any problem with this or is it excused as a fair use?

Traditionally, parody is excused as a fair use because it is a type of criticism or comment about a copyrighted work, while satire is not and typically is not found to be fair use. But not all parody qualifies as fair use. A parody is defined as a work that makes fun of a particular copyrighted work by highlighting its pretensions, poor quality, or lowbrow popularity. Even if the parody does this, the amount of the copyrighted work that may be used for the parody is somewhat limited. Case law dictates that a parody is not a remake of an entire work (such as a musical comedy version of Gone with the Wind). Instead, a noninfringing parody uses only a fair use portion of the copyrighted work and not more than is necessary to accomplish the parodic purpose.

By contrast, a satire does not poke fun at a particular copyrighted work. Instead, it may use copyrighted works to criticize society, current events, politicians, political issues, and the like. Thus, using copyrighted melodies with new words to make fun of political figures or events is classified as satire and is not excused as a fair use. So permission is required to use a work for satire. Courts have held that copyright holders are more likely to grant permission to use their works for satire than for parody since satire is not making fun of the copyrighted work itself.

Some faculty members have developed a multimedia PowerPoint presentation as a workshop for high school students who have been suspended from school for aggressive behavior. It was very well received by students and by colleagues when it was presented at a conference, and a number of requests were received to purchase the presentation for use elsewhere. It uses a Star Wars theme, and the photographs, music, and sound effects were found on the web at starwars.com. Is there any problem with selling the presentation?

Certainly either the faculty or the institution may sell the presentation (depending on the agreement between the school and the faculty members). However, if one looks at the starwars.com website and reads the terms of use, commercial use of the images and sound is prohibited. So, while use for the workshop presentation may have been fair use, selling the presentation makes it commercial. If there is broad distribution, even if the sales price is only cost recovery, the best course is to contact Lucasfilm and seek permission.

A special education teacher at a school asks whether she can audiotape a book being studied in class for a child with learning disabilities. The library wants to purchase the tape, but a thorough search failed to reveal any source from which it is available. Since it is unavailable for purchase, may the library and school make its own audiotape for this child?

Under section 108 (the library section) of the Copyright Act, the answer is no, but under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the answer is yes. The Copyright Act contains a section that deals with reproduction for the blind and other people with disabilities, section 121. It states that it is not infringement for an authorized entity (such as a nonprofit organization or government agency, the primary mission of which is to provide specialized services relating to training, education, adaptive reading, and information access to a person with disabilities) to reproduce a work. There are some other requirements, too. The reproduction must (1) be in a specialized format for the use of someone with disabilities, (2) bear a notice that further reproduction or distribution in a format other than a specialized format is an infringement, and (3) contain a notice of copyright. So, if a school offers special education classes, it is an entity that serves disabled individuals, and the teacher may audiotape the book for use with learning-disabled students.

A professor requires his students to purchase a certain textbook for a class. Because students are required to have the book, is it fair use for the professor to use figures or charts from that text in course materials to supplement teaching? For example, students are required to read a chapter, and the instructor uses a chart or table from the chapter in some PowerPoint slides for further class discussion or explanation purposes. If this slide material were made available electronically in a password-protected electronic reserves system, would it be fair use since the students have purchased the text, or is permission still needed?

The display of the materials to the class is permitted, even if the class has not purchased the textbook. Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act allows teachers to display works to students in face-to-face teaching, regardless of whether that material is from the assigned textbook.

It likely that it would also be fair use to put the same charts and graphs on a password-protected electronic reserves system for the students in that class. The fact that the students have purchased the text is important. That means no permission is needed, even after the first semester or term it is used.

A teacher wants to use an audio recording from 1899 of an evangelist reading a portion of the Bible. Has the copyright expired? The U.S. Copyright Office says it does not deal with anything prior to 1972. A Copyright Office staff member wrote the following: "There is no federal copyright protection for a U.S. sound recording fixed prior to 1972. It is possible that material recorded (such as music and spoken words) may be protected. However, if the material in question consists of Bible verses, then no federal copyright protection exists." This work was put on a record in the 1950s by Word Records with Paul Harvey, but the company does not know anything about recordings that far back. The original recording was apparently made in the state of Illinois, but the state government says that state laws do not apply.

Sometimes it is simply worth assuming the risk when one wants to use a work such as this 1899 recording. The great likelihood is that if there ever was a copyright, it has expired. As the Copyright Office indicated, sound recordings were not protected in this country before 1972. Therefore, even the 1950 placement of the recorded reading on a record was not eligible for copyright protection. The State of Illinois has already indicated that state law does not apply to the 1950 recording. Thus, there is no copyright protection for the sound recording.

If the words were simply being read from the Bible, then there is no copyright in the text. Fixing the reading of the text in the sound recording in 1950 does not change the fact that the underlying work is from the Bible, which is in the public domain, although various translations may still be protected.

Is a college dormitory common area considered to be a "public place," which therefore would need public performance licenses to perform videos?

Yes, the lounge, living room, and other common spaces in a dormitory are considered public areas since members of the public may be invited into those dormitory areas to watch videos. Thus, public performance rights are needed. It is possible that that the college already has a license that covers music and video performances and displays in residence halls. To the contrary, individual dormitory rooms are not public areas and instead are considered more like a private home, so no public performance rights are needed for private performances in a dorm room.

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