Video and Education: Your Copyright Options


The use of motion pictures and other audiovisual works (“Films”) is increasingly important for education at Columbia University.  Many Films are protected by copyright law.  As faculty members, librarians, students, and others make use of Films, it is the position of Columbia University to respect the rights of copyright owners and at the same time respect opportunities in the law to support education and research.  Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) is prepared to support educational and research needs at the University by various means consistent with copyright law.

Significant copyright issues arise with the reproduction and transmission of Films.  Such uses may be necessary if the Film is digitized and posted to a server, accessed through course management systems, made part of a distance learning course, or integrated into educational projects by students or instructors.  This document summarizes three general options that may permit making copies of portions or all of an audiovisual work in connection with education.

Public Domain Option:
The Film is in the public domain.

Copyrights expire, placing the work in the public domain.  If the Film has no copyright protection, it may be reproduced and used without copyright limits.  For example, works published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain, as are works prepared by the U.S. government.  Other works may be in the public domain, depending on specific circumstances.

Related Links:

Information about the public domain and copyright expiration.
Links to extensive resources that are in the public domain or that are available with few restrictions.

Acquisition Option:
A purchase or license of the Film is reasonably available on the market to serve instructional needs.

If the Film can be acquired at a reasonable price on terms that meet educational needs, the University will consider acquiring it for the Library collections or securing a license for the needed use.  Various forms of market availability include:

  • Purchased copies by the Libraries for the collections or reserves.
  • Licensed stream from an authorized supplier (e.g., Swank).
  • Link to an online video collections acquired by the Libraries.
  • Student purchases from the bookstore or other retailer.
  • Streaming from authorized external source purchased by students (e.g., Netflix or Amazon).
  • Streaming from YouTube or other website where the work is, to the best of your awareness, lawfully available.
  • Individual permission from the rightsholder.

Related Links:

To request Films for course reserves, to explore licensing, or to search for Films in the Libraries collections.
Information and guidance about permissions from rightsholders.

Fair Use Option:
The use of all or part of the Film may be fair use.

Digitizing and streaming all or part of the film may be within fair use.  Fair use depends on an overall consideration of specific circumstances, but course-related uses under fair use are often subject to conditions such as:

  • CUL/IS or the instructor possesses a lawfully made copy.
  • The Film is importantly related to the educational needs of a specific course.
  • The amount of the Film that is available to students is limited to the amount necessary for serving educational needs.
  • Access to the Film is restricted to students enrolled in specific course.
  • The Film is not reasonably available on the market for purchase or for licensing in a manner that serves the specific educational needs.
  • The Film is posted to a server owned or managed by the University.
  • Presentation of the Film includes a copyright statement indicating that the Film may be subject to copyright protection and is for educational uses only.

Related Links:

Information and guidance about fair use for education.

In addition to fair use, the Copyright Act includes other provisions that can allow uses of copyrighted Films to advance education and research:

For Further Information

This document offers only a summary of relevant options under copyright law.  All of the options are subject to review of the details about the circumstances and the relevant law. 

For legal advice concerning University copyright issues, contact Beryl Abrams in the Office of the General Counsel (

Most recent revision: 090613