Sunday, January 07, 2007


I must confess that I often download images from the internet and make use of them in my lectures as well as in posts to my blogs without acknowledging the original source. I realize that I could not get away with this in academic publication, but I have nonetheless rejoiced in the "freedom" that personal computing and the internet have provided me. Reflecting upon this behavior at the start of a new calendar year, let me apologize here and now for taking advantage of many photographers and some artists to further my own professional and intellectual objectives. Going forward, I resolve to become a bit better at documenting from whence I download or scan.

While my own "moral sense" as well as my frustrated inner artist tells me that I have been doing something wrong, the legal situation regarding this matter is complex and confusing. Opinions regarding what consitutes a "fair use," even of copyrighted material, range all over the board. Supposedly, the "Conference On Fair Use (CONFU)1," provided a recipe for making fair use of digital images back in 1996. Actually, however, CONFU muddied the waters in many respects. Activist groups such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation basically maintain that the burden of proof rests upon the original creator of an image to prove that the thief knowingly appropriated it and claimed it as their own. I never claim to have created all of the images that I use, and I would most certainly consider it "unfair" to use a doctored or marked-up version of an image which I did not create. My intuitions in this regard appear to be generally supported by the "Teacher's Guide"2 authored by Cathy Newsome, whose credentials include being a school board member and a parent as well as a classroom teacher.

Here in Georgia, the Board of Regents3 has prepared a guide to understanding copyright and educational fair use which is written by lawyers. The Board of Regents guide basically summarizes a series of lawsuits which do not involve either teachers or bloggers. Conversations with other teachers left me with the impression that I was only safe using scanned images if I posted them in our password-protected "distance learning" server, WebCT. The only basis I can find for that claim might be that CONFU did form separate committees for digital images and for distance learning, which may have made different recommendations regarding fair use. According to the Society of American Archivists4, the CONFU guidelines for digital images far exceed what is legally required according to copyright law. The SAA statement was written in 1996, however, prior to the passage of Sonny Bono's Digital Millennium Copyright Act5 in 1998.

All in all, the situation with CONFU is confusing and we are probably all going to have to steer by our moral sense until some key lawsuits arise to bring the matter before a judge. It strikes me that better documentation of sources for both images and text might improve the blogosphere all around. Perhaps it will even bring more readers to some of us who are budding bloggers?

1 Lehman, Bruce, 1996, The Conference on Fair Use, An Interim Report to the Commissioner. Wasthington, D.C.: United States Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce.
2 Newsome, Cathy, 1997, A Teacher's Guide to Fair Use and Copyright. Privately published.

3 Board of Regents Copyright Committee, Regents Guide to Understanding Copyright & Educational Fair Use. Atlanta, Ga.: University System of Georgia.
4 Society of American Archivists, 1995, Educational Fair Use Guidelines for Digital Images: Response of The Society of American Archivists to the Draft Guidelines Developed by the Conference on Fair Use. Chicago, Ill.: Society of American Archivists.
5 H.R. 2281 [Report No. 105-551], Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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