Fair use is a tool that should be used with caution

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Copyright attorney Georgia Harper talks in the Fine Art Library Wednesday.
She discussed copyright law and its effects on academic work and fair use.

Photo Credit: Yaguang Zhu | Daily Texan Staff

The concept of fair use often allows students to include copyrighted material in their academic work despite laws that might otherwise prohibit its use.

Georgia Harper, scholarly communications advisor for UT Libraries, said students can use copyrighted material for a different audience than the original copyright holder intended which includes research material used in dissertations or theses. Despite legal allowances, she said scholars should not overuse work and should only use the amount of work necessary to make a point.

Harper held a lecture Tuesday about the process of obtaining permission to use copyrighted material in the Fine Arts Library titled “Fair Depends on Context.” Her lecture focused on fair use, a doctrine that permits the use of copyrighted material without gaining permission from the rights holders.

“Fair use is flexible and has an ability to adapt to a number of circumstances,” Harper said.

Harper said students still need to consider the risks when determining if a work is fair to use. Copyright holders can sue if material is not properly attributed or used inappropriately. She said if the copyright holder of a work does not reply to the person trying to obtain copyright permission, risk decreases from a practical perspective.

“Fair use is not black and white,” Harper said. “It is deeply intertwined with risk tolerance.”

Harper said works with an expired or inapplicable copyright, which includes all work published before 1923, fall under public domain and can be used freely. She said work published between 1923 and 1964 are in the public domain if the copyright has not been renewed.

Laura Schwartz, head librarian for the Fine Arts Library, said ARTstor, a digital library available to UT students, makes images available for students to use for dissertations as long as the dissertation will not be freely available on the web. She said ARTstor images may not be used for any commercial purpose that may be distributed by the press, regardless if it is commercial or non-profit.

“I think students are afraid to make copyright decisions while writing their dissertations, and listening to Georgia Harper speak allows them to feel more comfortable with their final product,” Schwartz said.

Krista Kateneva, musicology and ethnomusicology graduate student, asked specific questions about her dissertation during the lecture to clarify whether she can legally use certain material.

“I am in the middle of writing my dissertation and it is confusing to know what I can and cannot use,” Kateneva said. “It is helpful to have someone lay out the guidelines.”

Printed on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as: Fair use helps scholars, must be used cautiously