Find out how you can legally and ethically use copyrighted and library content in your academic research, instruction, essays & writings, and creative projects. Legal disclaimer: this copyright guide is meant for informational & educational purposes only.
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Using Others' Content in Your Audiovisual Works or Videos
This page will help you understand how to legally and ethically reuse others' content when incorporating that content in your own film or audiovisual work. This content follows the chronological steps of the Framework for Analyzing any U.S. Copyright Problem.
To assist users in understanding how the Framework applies to film, the framework has been adapted and outlined on this page to specifically address how to use content in online videos, films, and other audiovisual projects.
This framework is designed to work through any copyright question faced by any individual when it comes to reusing others' content in the United States. Links to resources and tools provided.
1. Find content in the public domain
Public domain content is free to use, because the copyright term has either expired or the work never had copyright protection. Therefore, there is no need to rely on fair use or seek permission to use content in the public domain.
Unfortunately, the majority of audiovisual content and film is not in the public domain. However, there are a number of resources below to help you find visual and audiovisual content in the public domain.
Here is an example of a film that is in the public domain.
The above film still image and its corresponding film, A Little Princess(1939) starring Shirley Temple, are in the public domain in the U.S.
Search the NARA catalog, which has an extensive collection of films created for and produced by the U.S. government that are in the public domain, including military films, educational and documentary films (1915-1976). NARA also has gift materials from private sources, such as Universal Newsreel releases and outtakes (1929-67).
Provides near-unrestricted access to digitized collections of moving images. The largest collection is comprised of over 1,200 ephemeral (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films made from 1927 through the present.
Wikipedia's list of films in the public domain in the U.S. This list is not complete or exhaustive, but it provides a good starting point.
2. Find Creative Commons Licensed (CCL) content
For example, all the licenses require attribution, which is as simple as including an in-text citation and/or attritbution to the source in a reference list (e.g., in the credits at the end of the video).
The caption below the image (left) is an example of a CCL image with in-text citation/attribution.
This document is a code of best practices that helps creators, online providers, copyright holders, and others interested in the making of online video interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use. Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances (Center for Media & Social Impact).
This Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use makes clear what documentary filmmakers currently regard as reasonable application of the copyright fair use doctrine. Fair use expresses the core value of free expression within copyright law. The statement clarifies this crucial legal doctrine, to help filmmakers use it with confidence.
Use the fair use evaluator tool in order to better understand the four factors of fair use and make your own evaluation of your use of a copyrighted work. The tool generates an optional PDF of the evaluation that can act as documentation for your records.
4. Request permission to use the content in your video.
Be sure to specify that the content will be used in a video or an audiovisual project and available to anyone worldwide with an Internet connection (if applicable).
Be sure to archive all permission letters, even if it's just an email granting you permission. Only written permission is legal permission; verbal permission will not hold up in a court of law.