The simplest delineation of copyright rules is set out BEAUTIFULLY  by Daniel J Lewis in Copyright Laws for Bloggers and Podcasters.   Sarah Ovenall, a collage artist also gives a nice description. But nitty gritty explanations are helpful, too.  Stanford University has a website with up to date copyright basics and explanations of the the fair use exception to copyright protection.  See

Good news and bad news … in the reverse order: Bad news: when you have a tricky question on copyright, its really best to consult a lawyer.  Good news: there are lots of resources for artists including the FREE resources of the Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts.  When you contact them, as I have, you need to give them a few weeks lead time to find a lawyer and for you to set up a conversation with that lawyer and give them time to answer your question.  They also hold seminars for artists.  Their website is

Don’t think of copyright as only your enemy as a creative.  It can also be your friend.  For example, you may want to license your work for use. Here is a site that I came across that helps artists and designers do just that.  And you own your images when you make them.   It helpful however to put (c) (year created) Your Name on  the work to provide people with notice that you  own the work. You can also send slides, photographs or cds, etc to the copyright office to register your work.  This provides you with additional protections against anyone taking your work and trying to pass it off as their own or dilute your market.


The following is MY understanding of the copyright laws.  I am NOT a copyright lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV.  Thus, the following summary just synthesizes my understanding of copyright laws as it effects the use of these items.


If you are using an image in the context of sharing news, or commenting on something or parodying it, you are in pretty good shape.  Similarly, you can use an image for purposes of teaching, but the image needs to be shared only with the students in the class.  Thus, it would need to be on a blog that is limited to those individuals.  The image should be attributed to its maker and its source.

The safest, no-cost images to use are those that are in the public domain or are your own images, pictures and drawings.  You can find public domain images at sites like Wikipedia Commons,, which has images, sounds and videos, or flickr’s Creative Commons,  Additionally, you can research which images are in the public domain through standard Google Searches. Or you can purchase licenses to use images from a number of new sources,, or stock agencies such as

The trickiest use of images not your own are when you use an image and “transform” it into something of your own.  Use of other people’s images in collage is generally NOT exempt from copyright protection, unless the use is very minimal.  Even applying computer filters and monkeying around with a still identifiable image is generally NOT exempt from copyright protection.  Personally, I felt that Fairey’s use of the Obama photograph was transformative.  But he settled that case so we don’t know what a court would have done.  THE BOTTOM LINE: IF AN IMAGE IS NOT IN ONE FOR EDUCATION, RESEARCH, PARODY, NEWS or COMMENT (i.e. the categories in Fair Use Factor  #1), BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT USING IT!

Section 107 of the Copyright Acts sets out a four factors balancing test for determining fair use of copyrighted material:

  1.  the purpose and character of your use (education, research, parody, news or comment, or  transformative use are fine).
  2.  the nature of the copyrighted work
  3.  the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for the work (and its derivatives).

See more at: Ultimately, its a balancing test, and whenever things are balancing tests, it really means that the outcome is up to the judge.


Youtube has the best summary on what nonpublic domain videos can be be used without violating   copyright law, with examples of acceptable use of videos for news reporting, parody and remix.  A really good example of what they claim as an acceptable fair use remix is Donald Duck meets Glen Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck.


YouTube explains that “This remix combines short excerpts from different source materials and creates a new message about the effect of provocative rhetoric in times of economic crisis. Works that create new meaning for the source material may be considered fair use.”  Note that the video also clearly provided attribution of whose voices were used and where the characters came from

That said, you are safest to use your own videos, public domain or videos you have permission to use.  If you use or do anything to your own video, you are in the clear.  If you put it show it anywhere, make clear in the video or the link that it was done by, is owned by you, example: (2014)(c) Your Name Here, all rights reserved.


The Student Television Network has a nice discussion of what copyrighted sound clips and videos can or cannot be used or sampled and what the limits are. The organization notes that even just taking 30 seconds of a song is insufficient to protect and artist from violating the copright law.

You can buy license to use music or sound at places like: or find royalty-free music on line,  Creative Commons is one of the several sites that the Student Television Network lists for obtaining music for use,


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