Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons in 7 videos

Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh

Primary Source:  Spencer Greenhalgh

For the past week or so, I’ve been helping my colleague Danah Henriksen teach the second year sequence of MSU’s Master of Arts in Educational Technology East Lansing Summer Cohort. Earlier this week, I stole away from our classroom to spend some time with the students enrolled in the first year sequence and to teach them some about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. My lesson was based around 7 YouTube videos, each of which provides an example of or makes a point about the difficulties and dilemmas of intellectual property in the Internet age. I thought I’d share the videos and the main points that I made in case that they’re helpful for anyone else.

Video #1: Is this stealing?

One of my favorite videos on YouTube is a mash-up of Michael Jackson’s Beat It with footage of a musical group that I assume to be sponsored by the Chinese government. Juxtaposing these two sources makes for a highly entertaining video, but it’s also pretty clear that neither the Jackson estate nor the Chinese government has provided their stamp of approval. So, is this stealing? Does it violate copyright?


Video #2: We need copyright

However someone feels about the first video, this next video demonstrates that there is a need for intellectual property laws such as copyright, especially in the Internet age. I think it’s amazing that people can make a living producing smart videos for YouTube, and so it’s distressing to me to see that these people’s work is being stolen for others’ profit.


Video #3: There are problems with copyright

Believing that copyright is a necessary part of the digital age doesn’t mean that the current (US) copyright scheme is perfect. This video from CGP Grey highlights some of the problems with current copyright law in the United States.


Video #4: Fair use gives us a solution

Fair use is a section of copyright law that allows private citizens to circumvent copyright in certain circumstances. It doesn’t solve all of the problems described above, but it does provide teachers and others with tools to mount an argument for using copyrighted material. This video reviews copyright, some of the same problems with copyright touched on in the above video, and then introduces fair use, including some of the criteria used in determining whether a particular use of copyrighted material can be justified as fair use.

Caveat: This website is the original source for this video, but since it’s licensed under Creative Commons, I feel okay using this “remix” to keep with the theme of YouTube videos.

Video #5: Is this fair use?

The two videos below are examples of a “before” and an “after” where the “in between” is allegations of copyright infringement. I think (and you may agree) that mashing up Frozen and the X-Men is transformative enough to count as “fair use,” but someone else (I wonder who) didn’t. I can’t be sure exactly what happened here, but my guess is that the creators of the video replaced the video rather than try to argue fair use in court (which can be expensive). See the before and after below to come to your own conclusion!


Caveat: The first video is, technically speaking, the kind of pirated YouTubing that I was bemoaning earlier in this post. I love this YouTube channel and would normally never condone/endorse pirating of their videos… but in this case, I feel like seeing the “Before” picture is important enough that I’m going to describe this as “civil disobedience.”

Video #6: Fair use still has its limits!

This is stretching the definition of a video, since it’s technically a podcast episode that’s been “set to video.” It’s a great discussion, though, on the importance of not abusing fair use, providing proper attributions, and generally respecting intellectual property. I feel that it’s particularly powerful since one of the people in the discussion was the same person who criticized some elements of copyright law in Video #2.

(this is a bit long, so if you want to skip to a good part, I recommend the discussion that takes place at 22:30)

Video #7: Creative Commons!

Fair use is a powerful tool at our disposal, and I’m of the opinion that we should never forego our access to that tool. That said, sometimes there are simpler solutions, and Creative Commons is one of them. This video introduces this alternative copyright scheme that makes it easy to use and build on other people’s work.


There’s a lot not covered in these videos (or in my bare-bones commentary in this post), but I’m a big fan of this small collection for introducing people to the big, complicated world of intellectual property.

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Hi there! My name is Spencer Greenhalgh, and I am a student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology doctoral program at Michigan State University. I came to Michigan State University with a strong belief in the importance of an education grounded in the humanities. As an undergraduate, I studied French and political science and worked as a teaching assistant in both fields. After graduation, I taught French, debate, and keyboarding in a Utah private school before coming to MSU, where I plan to study how technology can be used to help students connect the humanities with their lives. I have a particular interest in the use of games and simulations to promote ethical reasoning and explore moral dilemmas, but am eager to study any technology that can help students see the relevance of studying language, culture, history, and government.