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Center Releases New Guide to Navigating Copyright Law

Communications scholars often fret over the legal nuances of using copyrighted material in their research, says Pat Aufderheide, a professor of communication at American University and director of its Center for Social Media. Ms. Aufderheide and Peter A. Jaszi, a law professor at American, hope to help researchers rest easy with a new guide to using copyrighted work—like political cartoons or screenshots from online games—in their studies.

Because of the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, copyrighted work can be quoted if it is being used for a purpose different from its original intent, according to the report, which was vetted by a committee of lawyers.

The report, released today, gives communications scholars four types of research-related situations as examples: analyzing copyrighted material, quoting it to illustrate a point, using it to spark discussion, and storing it in a collection. The situations in the report were based on 387 responses to a survey of communications scholars conducted in collaboration with the International Communication Association.

The center’s guides establish what’s acceptable for a field and tell scholars how to apply the law to the cases they encounter, said Ms. Aufderheide.

The center plans to continue producing similar documents for other groups, like an association of research librarians, that want clearer guidelines on using copyrighted works, she added.

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