Copyright and Fair Use – A Reflection

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

In 1790, the Copyright Act of 1790 was put into place. With that act, the administration of copyright laws fell to the Library of Congress. (Hudson Institute, 2015.) The Digital Milliemmium Copyright Act of 1988 expanded definitions to include digital media and to address rapidly changing technologies (US Copyright Office, 1998.) But is that the right place for copyright law to be maintained and administered? Since the advent of the Internet and the sweeping technological changes that have transpired in the last quarter of a century, the Copyright Office has remained virtually unchanged, a part of the Library of Congress, and often not considered a priority. (Hudson Institute, 2015). The Government Accountability Office released a series of reports in 2015, pointing out the technological shortcomings of the Library of Congress, with regard to the duties of the Copyright Office. Modernisation is clearly needed, but should the Copyright Office remain under the auspices of the Library of Congress? Or should it be a stand-alone agency?

At the time that Tepp and Oman wrote their White Paper, A 21st Century Copyright Office: The conservative case for reform, the Librarian of Congress had been employed in that role for 28 years, and was nearing retirement. Prior to his tenure in the role of Librarian of Congress, the Internet was  not in existence. Technological advances, software, websites, multimedia, and programming had suddenly become a part of what the Copyright Office would be held responsible. However, as the Government Accountability Office’s reports in 2015 revealed that the Copyright Office was in need of an overhaul, technologically, and from a managerial standpoint. SInce 1870, the Copyright Office was part of the Library of Congress, but surely the technological advances would spur a need for this office to be it’s own agency.

Under the current Library of Congress, LIbrarian of Congress Carla Hayden is still over the Copyright Office, and it remains a part of the Library of Congress. (Lamel, 2018.) According to Lamel, the Copyright Office is making great strides under the leadership of Hayden, along with Copyright Register Karyn Temple. However because of its status as a part of the Library of Congress, we still see industries lobbying to have it separated, so that it would have a leadership role that would be appointed by the US President. This could allow lobbyists to sway that leadership to meet their own industry interests.

Looking at the way the Copyright Office was run in 2015, I would definitely say that it would be better run as a standalone agency, but under the new leadership of Hayden and Temple, that office is making significant changes for the better. I think ultimately it should be separated from the Library of Congress, but for now, as long as they continue to progress technology, I think it will continue to demonstrate efficacy.

In continuing to study and research copyright and fair use, we have explored the following terms:

  • Plagiarism
  • Copyright infringement
  • Attribution
  • Transformation

As we move forward in educational leadership, especially in the digital age, it’s critical that we fully understand these terms and their implications.

Plagiarism refers to the practice of using someone’s work and representing it as your own. Plagiarism typically implies that work is used and not cited appropriately, or not cited at all. An example of this could be in the previous paragraphs, if I took content directly from Tepp and Oman’s White Paper, and used it without citing it, and without representing it as a quote.

Copyright Infringement refers to using copyrighted material without express permission of the creator of that material. An example of copyright infringement would be if I used content from Tepp and Oman’s White Paper, representing it as my own work and ideas, without citing that work.

 Attribution is the practice of citing work, images, or other media used to properly give credit for those works. In this post, I have shared an image that was downloaded from the website Pixabay allows use of royalty-free images and media. Though Pixabay does not require attribution, it’s always best practice to credit the source of the material. As such, I have attributed the image used in the image caption, as well as in the references below.

Transformation is an important term when determining fair use. Fair use allows for limited use of copyrighted work in certain circumstances, one of which is if the material derived from the copyrighted material is transformational, or used in a different and unusual way. In order to be considered transformational, the new work must only contain a small portion of the original work. The original meaning of the work must be changed. The original must be reworked. And the new work cannot be used for profit.

An example of how work can be transformed for fair use is a painting by Jeff Koons. Koons used a photograph created by photographer Andrea Blanch, depicting a woma’s legs and feet propped on a man’s lap. Koons used those legs and feet in his painting, with other womens’ feet and legs, but as a cultural statement. (Artists’ Rights, 2006,)

I thought this YouTube video from Stanford Center for Internet and Society (2014) really explains the concept of “transformational” as it applies to fair use really well.

Overall, the concept of copyright has not changed since 1790. It still exists to protect the original creations, and to promote advancement in science, technology, and in arts. But in the digital age, materials that are copyrighted come in a variety of formats. More emphasis will continue to be placed on technological resources and digital media. Overall, this will likely change the way that the Copyright Office is administered in the United States, and it will continue to change the way that educators teach, and the way that our students learn.


Artists’ Rights. (2006.) Blanch vs Koons. Retrieved from

Common Sense Educator. (2014.) Copyright and fair use animation [Video]. Retrieved from

Gordon, J. (N.D.). Libre freedom typography type text [Image]. Retrieved from Pixabay.

Stanford Center for Internet and Society. (2014.) The Key to fair use: Transformation. Retrieved from

Tepp, S. and Oman, R. (2015). A 21st century copyright office: The Conservative case for reform. Hudson Institute. White Paper: Center for the Economics of the Internet. Retrieved from

Lamel, J. (2018). Copyright office continues to be an integral part of the broader Library of Congress. The Hill, 9/25/2018. Retrieved from

US Copyright Office (1998). The Digitial Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Retrieved from

US Government Accountability Office.  (2015). Copyright Office
needs to develop plans that address technical and organizational challenges. Report to the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate. Retrieved from