Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Book cover copyright issues with VoiceThread stories

This past week, a friend of mine shared the “Great Book Stories” project with a group of librarians and received some VERY strong pushback from a few of them over copyright issues. Several of the librarians were FIRMLY convinced that using a photograph of a copyrighted book cover in a student project posted on the Internet is ILLEGAL and violates U.S copyright laws. This discussion over copyright and intellectual property issues is an excellent one to have with not only librarians but also with students and classroom teachers. Many misperceptions over copyright law exist in the context of student multimedia projects, and there are “bright line rule” advocates out there who follow and encourage other educators to follow firm, fixed rules when it comes to fair use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes.

The actual fair use laws of the United States do NOT include “bright line” rules, but some people have tried to create “line in the sand” rules for copyright to assist educators in situations just like this one. These efforts have been well intentioned, but unfortunately can lead to situations like the one last week where some people are adamantly declaring, “You can’t do that. That’s illegal,” when in fact the media use in question can qualify as “fair use.” Certainly conservative views, like “never use a photograph of a book cover in a student media project,” could keep students as well as teachers/librarians within the legal boundaries of fair use law. However, these types of “bright line” copyright interpretations can err significantly on the side of limited fair use, and may in fact preclude learners from legally using copyrighted content in legitimate “fair use” contexts which should be permitted. Most teachers I visit with about copyright and fair use issues DO want “bright line,” fixed rules which they can follow in every case when it comes to multimedia content and student projects. I discussed these issues at length in an article for the TechEdge (still available online) titled “Copyright 101 for Educators: Winter 2003.” As I discuss in the article, the 1986 Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia can be misleading and erroneous in their applicability to student media projects. Rather than follow those “bright line” rules, I recommend educators and students be familiar with the actual provisions of U.S. copyright law and intelligently apply those guidelines to their own uses of media. In addition, knowledge about and use of Creative Commons licensed works also provides an excellent way to legally comply with copyright law.

It is not necessary to use any photographs or scans of a book cover in a Voicethread digital story submited to the “Great Book Stories” project, so it is unfortunate that in the situation last week with librarians their debates over copyright issues may have overshadowed the benefits of using VoiceThread to share perspectives on wonderful books with others. This afternoon, to provide more examples of VoiceThread digital stories which do NOT include book cover images (as well as develop our own literacy skills) two of my children recorded new VoiceThreads.

Rachel (now 4 years old) recorded a five image VoiceThread about one of her favorite books, “Pele and Poli’ahu: A Tale of Fire and Ice” by Malia Collins. This is a book I purchased in Hawaii last November when I was in Honolulu for their state library conference. Ever since, Rachel has LOVED this story and we have read it countless times before bedtime. It certainly rates high on a list of her favorite books she loves and would like to share with others.

Full disclosure: Rachel helped select the images for this digital story and what she wanted to say about the book using the images. I did all the “mouse work” for her in VoiceThread.

Alexander, on the other hand, is 9 years old and has good digital literacy skills as well as the ability to read and write. For his digital story about the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series, he did all the mousework and planning. This included planning (on paper) the five things he wanted to share about the book series. He was reticent to share an actual picture of his planning sheet, but I assured him that it is fine to not spell all your words correctly on your planning document.

Alexander's planning sheet for his VoiceThread about Choose Your Own Adventure books

After completing his planning, Alexander located five images using the Flickr Creative Commons image search which were appropriate to his messages. He then logged into VoiceThread, selected his identity, and recorded his voice onto each image. Besides typing the title, description, and tags for his VoiceThread, I was “hands off” for this entire digital story, this represents his own, original work! 🙂

The conversations Alexander and I had about intellectual property, images, fair use, and Creative Commons as he made this project were superb. One of the things Alexander wanted to do (and did with the first image of his VoiceThread) was insert himself (using PhotoShop Elements, which he’s used extensively in the past) onto an image. He also wanted to add some text on top of one of his selected images. This constitutes a “derivative work,” since he is building upon the creative work of someone else and not just reusing it in an unaltered form. To do this legally using Creative Commons images, he needed to find an image which was licensed in a way that PERMITS derivative works. Practically speaking, this means the “equals sign” image is NOT part of the Creative Commons license, visible on the lower right corner of the image’s homepage in Flickr. He searched for Flickr Creative Commons images licensed with the Attribution License or the Attribution-NonCommercial License. (He could have also searched under licenses permitting derivative works with the “share-alike” condition if he was going to share his work under the “share-alike” terms. Since VoiceThread does not currently permit designation of a Creative Commons license, however, we avoided images with the “share-alike” license option.)

I’ve added both these new “Great Book Stories” to the “Listen and See” page of the project wiki. A group of teachers I’m working with in MidDel Schools, just east of Oklahoma City, has learned about VoiceThread and are creating “favorite book” digital stories as homework before our next professional development workshop in a week.

One of the things we did with both of these “Great Book Story” VoiceThreads by Rachel and Alexander was add linked text to the bottom of each image, which directly links to the Flickr Creative Commons page for each image. Alexander did this for his own images and labeled each one “url,” I did Rachel’s and labeled each “Creative Commons Image.” I also created a publicly shared Google Notebook for the images we used in Rachel’s VoiceThread. I love this capability of VoiceThread to include a link to the source image page, and think this could be considered an “educational best practice” for attribution of Creative Commons images with VoiceThread. To see and click on the text link for each image in their stories, move your mouse to the lower right corner of the VoiceThread digital story over the image thumbnails. When your mouse moves there, the text link should become visible at the bottom of the image.

I continue to think the potential of VoiceThread to be used in simple yet powerful ways, enabling learners of all ages to safely share their voices on the global stage of the Internet where others can provide moderated feedback, is exceptional. I’m glad to have (and perhaps provoke others to have) conversations about copyright and fair use issues. Whether or not you decide to use images of book covers in digital stories created by learners at your school, VoiceThread can still be used in powerful and “legally non-controversial” ways to help learners share their voices as well as enthusiasm for different books they love!

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8 responses to “Book cover copyright issues with VoiceThread stories”

  1. mrsdurff Avatar

    So then Amazon is violating copyright? I don’t think so.

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    That was discussed at the librarian meeting, apparently. Some suggested Amazon isn’t violating copyright, others suggested they may have an agreement with book publishers, others suggested this may fall within “fair use” guidelines. I’m not sure what the situation is there, but surely it is possible to find out. There is a Flickr group named “Book Cover Club” which has over 3000 contributed images. If taking a photograph of a book cover and posting it online was a blatant violation of copyright, it would seem that Yahoo (who owns Flickr) would shut down this photo sharing group. They haven’t. My understanding of fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law indicates there certainly are cases when using a photo of a book cover for limited, non-commercial uses would qualify as fair use. One of the criteria for determining fair use is the prospective impact of the use on the market value of the copyrighted material. In the case of our “Great Book Stories” project, the explicit purpose is to encourage more people to read the books being discussed, which seems reasonable to increase the sales of those books. So I definitely think use of book cover images can fall under “fair use” provisions of US copyright law.

    You are correct that’s use of book cover images is a major case in point. I’d love to know their position on this issue. Maybe I’ll email them and see what they can say officially about this?

  3. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I submitted the following as an email to customer service this evening:

    I have been involved in conversations with school librarians and teachers recently about “fair use” provisions of using copyrighted pictures of book covers in student multimedia projects. Some of these conversations have been documented in the following blog post, including comments:

    Can you please fill me in on how is able to use pictures of book covers legally on your website? I am guessing this constitutes fair use, particularly when the predicted market effect of this use is positive for book sales. Is this correct? Any insight you can give on this would be most helpful. Thanks!

    Wesley Fryer
    Edmond, Oklahoma, USA

  4. Mathew Avatar

    Two points…

    I would say that the VoiceThread stories are most similar to book reviews. Newspapers are certainly allowed to use book covers in printing reviews as these are for journalistic purposes. Your children’s VoiceThread stories are essentially book reviews and you are allowed to use excerpts for these.

    You have to ask yourself why would someone—someone being the publisher—object to your use of the book cover? You’re essentially providing free publicity for the book. If you were printing T-Shirts with the book cover or simply reproducing the image just because you liked the image on your own web site, the publishers would have a valid reason to object.

    P.S. I’m a big fan of a radio show in Los Angeles about entertainment law, these are the kind of questions that come up again and again. There’s a podcast of the show…

  5. Mathew Avatar

    Fair use definitely includes using images for journalistic purposes like a book review in a newspaper. While VoiceThread specifically is uncharted legal waters I would say your children’s work is closest to a book a review and so using the cover would be allowed.

    Also, you have to ask yourself what harm you are doing and why would publishers object? You are not taking sales away, in fact you are essentially providing free advertising for the book. I’d never heard of one of the books you mentioned, now I have because you put it on VoiceThread and reviewed it.

    Again, the book review part is the key. If you were putting a narrative on VoiceThread and used a cover image to help illustrate your story then that technically wouldn’t be okay.

  6. Karen Avatar

    I believe I am the friend in question and appreciate Wes protecting my privacy. However, I am really interested in shedding light on this issue. I have been having a series of copyright debates with people since this came up and it seems if you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 answers.

    Part of the issue at question was about taking a picture of the book cover and then using Flickr and Big Huge Labs Trading Card Creator, to make trading cards for elementary students. The idea was for students to collect trading cards throughout the year as they read recommended books and also record their thoughts about the book on a VoiceThread.

    I researched the Amazon question thoroughly and as Amazon did not chime in on any of the places I saw this being discussed, it was suggested that they either have agreements with the publishing companies or that the publishing companies are not wasting time going after Amazon because they are selling them more books.

    I found a VoiceThread created by a teacher that has students reading their favorite poems. I created a similar VoiceThread to use as an example for a librarian/teacher workshop. I was asked today if that is a copyright violation because it essentially republishes the poem online. There are not copies of book covers, just the person telling the title and author of the poem and then reading the poem. Any thoughts?

  7. Darren Draper Avatar

    Nice work on the “Copyright 101 for Educators: Winter 2003″ site that you created several years ago.

    Whatever we can do to help teachers better understand copyright will be well worth the efforts.

  8. Mathew Avatar

    Hall Davidson also has a great chart about copyright for teachers. As Wes points out these are guidelines not laws as there is much uncharted legal water. Click on my name for link to chart I don’t think I can post links here.