Muddy Issue: Fair Use and Copyright Use in Social Networking

CW copyrightsocialI want to discuss the ethical issue of fair use and copyright use in social networking.  I think this is an issue that is very misunderstood across the board and there is currently a lot of misuse. Many people think that they can google something, lets say an image of something for their blog post, and share it freely and because it exists on the internet it’s free to use.  That is absolutely, completely, incorrect. Dr. Tyler Veak video was really great and I recommend watching it to help you understand all of the copyright concepts but I want to go into fair use in more detail and discuss how it pertains directly to social networking. 

The first thing I think we need to really understand here is that copyright law was created to PROMOTE the creation of science and arts by protecting authors and creators. (Rathemacher, 2013) Fair use is an exception that protects the authors rights while allowing others to make use of the work.  One of the most important points Dr. Veak makes in his video is that all work is automatically copyright protected.  (Veak) My rule of thumb is to assume it is copyrighted unless it states otherwise and this is what Veak recommends as well.

When it comes to determining wether something falls under the fair use act He discusses four factors to analyze to come to this determination which come directly from the U.S. code on fair use.


The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

Veak suggest that if the material is educational or non-profit in intent or purpose it falls closer to fair use. (Veak)

The nature of the copyrighted work

This would be about looking at the nature of the work itself, if it’s more creative it falls closer to fair use, if it’s more factual it does not. (Veak)

The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

Here we are looking at how much of the work you want to use.  The less you want to use, the closer you are to fair use.

The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

This factor directly relates to how your use of the work would monetarily effect to author of the work.  Less impact is closer to fair use. (Veak)

Section 110(2) specifies some fair use policy specifically for online teaching thanks to the TEACH Act as follows:

“Section 110(2): Displays and performances in distance education (TEACH Act) — Ability to display or perform certain types of copyrighted works in the course of distance education. Use of 110(2) is subject to many conditions, including establishing institutional policies and implementing technological controls.” (Rathemacher, 2013)

As educators we have some extra fair use rights so that we can display (show) our students copyrighted works of any medium, within our online classrooms. (LibGUides, 2016)   These works must be related to the courses curriculum and audiovisual works and dramatic musical works (LibGUides, 2016)   may not be shown in their entirety. (I have to say I don’t like that!) There are other limitations, for example you must be a nonprofit accredited educational institution or a government agency LibGUides. (2016), you must have a copyright policy at your institution LibGUides. (2016), you must take steps to ensure that you limit your students ability to download or redistribute the work LibGUides. (2016), there’s even a list of materials that are specifically excluded completely, and many educators just choose to rely on the Section 110(2), the four factor fair use test, as it is so much simpler. (LibGUides, 2016)  The TEACH Act does give us the ability to digitalize work that Section 110(2) fair use allows us to use face-to-face, to put a digital copy in our online classroom. (LibGUides, 2016)  That is a key point to remember!

Its up to use to determine if something is fair use.  The statute may say that criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research are allowed but they still must fall into the four factors we have discussed to determine if they are indeed fair use.  To be honest, the easiest way to get around all of this, just ask for permission! Every single time.  When in doubt, ask.


Aufderheide, P. &  Jaszi, P. (2007) The Good, the Bad, and the Confusing: User-Generated Video Creators on Copyright. Center for Social Media School of Communication American University. Washington, DC. Retrieved form

LibGUides. (2016). Copyright Crash Course. TEACH Act. University of Texas Libraries. Retrieved from

LibGUides. (2016). Copyright Crash Course. TEACH Act Checklist. University of Texas Libraries. Retrieved from

Rathemacher, A., Lovett, J., & Ferria, A. (2013). Fair Use and Copyright for Online Education: Copyright. University Libraries. University of Rhode Island. Retrieved from

Veak, T. Ask the Expert. Liberty University. Retrieved from

U.S. Copyright Office. (2016)  Copyright Law of the United States. Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17). Library of Congress. Retrieved from

Tags: social media marketing, copyright, instagram, facebook, fair use