Librarians to Colleges: Keep on Streaming

The Library Copyright Alliance has published a legal analysis (PDF) of the use of streaming video in higher education, and the bottom line could be good news for colleges: Teachers are allowed to use streaming videos as part of their courses without obtaining special licenses to do so, the analysis concludes after diving into details of copyright and education laws. The alliance, which counts the American Library Association as well as the Association of College & Research Libraries as its members, implores educators to “know and exercise their rights” in regards to online video use.

This position won’t likely go over well with publishers of educational videos, which have been stepping up their efforts to get universities to obtain special streaming licenses if they want to include videos on course web sites. The Association for Information and Media Equipment (AIME) threatened UCLA with a copyright lawsuit over video streams late last year, and the school responded by shutting down its online video platform.

AIME has been arguing that displaying a movie on a web site isn’t the same thing as showing it in a classroom, even if there are access controls for the online video in place. AIME President Allen Dohra told us last month that there are special streaming licenses available for virtually any video currently for sale for educational purposes.

However, the Library Copyright Alliance believes that in many occasions there is no need to pay for these licenses. U.S. Copyright traditionally granted fair use exemptions to educational institutions, making it for example possible to buy a single copy of a DVD and show it to dozens of classes without paying separate licensing fees for each performance.

Copyright has been amended in the last decade to include long-distance learning and other new forms of education, and the authors of the Alliance’s legal analysis believe that these amendments also cover the display of films on class websites. One example to justify this as fair use would be to accompany online screenings with virtual classrooms that allow interaction between a teacher and students.

The analysis concludes with a reminder that fair use has never been set in stone:

“Copyright’s limitations and exceptions for users (especially educators) are as important to a thriving culture as the set of exclusive rights it conveys to authors and publishers. The contours of those exceptions, especially fair use, are determined in part by the accepted practices in communities of users.”

They’re also in part determined by the courts, one might add, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if the conflict between publishers and schools would eventually head that way as well.

Related GigaOm Pro content: Live Event Coverage: Video Rights Roundtable (subscription required)