Category Archives: copyright

Ahead of Their Time

I recently read Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh’s memoir of his career as the base player for this legendary band. It was a fun if sobering romp through the 1960s and beyond. Lesh catalogs the highs of a joyous, free spirited time, and the lows as he watches friends and fellow musicians die before their time, ravaged by drugs. If you are a fan or just want to learn more how this band became legend, it’s worth a read.

But, I’m writing about Lesh today because before I passed the book on to a friend–she is 30 years younger than I am but a stalwart Dead fan–I grabbed the one quote that I noted as I read. It concerned the Dead’s willingness to let their fans tape the show and share those tapes with others. The band not only tolerated it, but eventually let a few of the “tapers” plug into a second sound board. Famous for never repeating the same show twice, the band seemed unconcerned, and Lesh remembers that Jerry said, “As soon as we play it, we’re done with it. Let ’em have it” (p. 174). That’s not completely true, Lesh writes, as the band itself taped their shows for their own review and some of those tapes made it into the trading streama as well.

Lesh muses about the potential impact of those networks: “It’s interesting to speculate about the influence of these trader networks on the programmers who designed such file-sharing peer-to-peer software as Napster, Lime Wire, or Kazaa–software that does the same thing digitally.” I wonder how this sharing culture also influenced new ways of thinking about copyright that led, eventually, to the Creative Commons movement that gets beyond corporate control and back to grassroots connections that seemed at the heart of ideas about the early Internet.

The Internet Archive has become the online library of not just Grateful Dead shows, but also lots of other live music from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones to New Riders of the Purple Sage. The archive describes the bands who allow their live music to be shared via the platform as trade-friendly. The webpage defining this concept includes a quote from Lesh’s memoir: “On balance, allowing taping was maybe the smartest business move we ever made” (p. 266).

I did not have the opportunity to hear the Grateful Dead while I was at William and Mary as I believe the 1978 show, which coincided with Parents’ Weekend, may have been their last, just a couple years before I arrived. Fortunately, I can listen to those shows and lots and lots and lots of others as part of the Grateful Dead collection at the archive. As the band sings in Franklin’s Tower: If you get confused, just listen to the music play.

Public Domain Day

Short and sweet today: I forgot to acknowledge Public Domain Day on January 1, 2023. This year, items published in 1927 entered the domain, including Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and the classic Ice Cream song of which Howard Johnson is one of the writers.

Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain have a list of the most interesting ones a well as good information about copyright and the importance of the public domain. Wikipedia, of course, is a treasure trove of information, and I am a supporter of The Public Domain Review, an online journal devoted to celebrating the public domain. They send an interesting collection of postcards a few times a year.

Have fun browsing!

Some Copyright Resources

Crossing the Copyright Boundary in the Digital Age

The OLD Way: Copyright, Fair Use

Let’s let some of our favorite Disney characters tell the story in this movie by Eric Faden.

A Fairly Use Tale:

The Current Thinking on Fair Use:

The Fair Use Blog:

The trouble with traditional copyright and fair use:

  • Here’s what the National Gallery of Art says:
  • Here’s what Wikimedia Commons says:
  • The Denver Library’s Western Collection: and their copyright statement:
  • The BBC and Wikipedia:

Which Sitting Bull is legal?

An OLD and NEW Way: Public Domain and Creative Commons

Here’s the good news: the Internet has made it much easier to access public domain materials and a new trend in copyright called Creative Commons makes it possible for educators to ignore all of the above and use materials for free, without permission, for all sorts of multimedia projects.

Public Domain

Materials in the public domain have always been available to educators for use in any way they wish. With the Internet, access to such materials are increased.

  • Copyright Free Images Copyright friendly images free for any use.
  • All the digital photos published on the National Archives website are in the public domain.
  • Public Domain Images Several thousand royalty free stock photos nicely organized in folders, free for personal and commercial use.
  • *Project Gutenberg: http://gutenberg.orgfor books
  • Yellowstone National Park has placed nearly 13,000 images in the public domain so they are available for use without permission.
  • The Library of Congress is a little harder as they don’t own copyright, but generally if the material was published before 1923, it is in the public domain. And, the Library of Congress just added over 3,000 photos to flickr, the photo sharing website: Most have no known copyright restriction.
  • Open Directory Listing of Public Domain Sites:

Creative Commons

But putting something in the public domain means you lose all rights to the work. The Creative Commons movement allows copyright owners to modify their rights in order to allow others to use their work in their own creations without getting permission.

The Creative Commons website is the place to start to learn more about these new kinds of licenses. It also has a search engine that allows users to find Creative Commons licensed materials.

Creative Commons Videos:

Video: Wanna Work Together?

Video: A Shared Culture OR YouTube:

Virtual Tour: Other Places to Find Copyright-Friendly Materials


The photo sharing website has two ways of thinking about the Commons. First, many flickr users assign Creative Commons’ licenses to their photos. The website does a great job explaining Creative Commons. short loans Second, Flickr is working with partners to provide access to public photo collections. This is called the Commons and includes photos from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the University of Washington along with many others.

Wikimedia Commons

From the same people who brought us Wikipedia, there is the Wikimedia Commons, a collection of audio, video and image files that are often available for use without permission under different kinds of licenses. Some of the materials are in the public domain, too. Wikipedia maintains a list of public domain images: (With all the proper caveats, of course!

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a vast clearinghouse for public domain and other copyright-friendly licenses. You can find lots of movies, music, and images. Here are a few of my favorite starting places at the Archive. WARNING: There’s a lot here. Be prepared to spend some time exploring at least during your first few visits. I’ve also found the general search to be productive if I’m in a hurry.

  • Browse the Open Source Audio section for lots of different kinds of music including nature sounds and other sound effects. Most are Creative Commons licensed.
  • Ephemeral films are nonfiction educational, industrial or promotional movies. I like to browse this collection by keyword.
  • The Education section includes lectures, links to open education archives, and much, much more.
  • The Texts section has access to books and more.

Digital Public Library of America

This portal for libraries, museums, and archives is a rich platform for exploration and education. While not all the materials are copyright friendly, there are lots of materials with no known restrictions.


  • Free Music Archive:
  • Mutopia:


Open Education Resources Commons

The OER Commons–Open Educational Resources–bills itself as a worldwide learning network and is part of a movement to make a wide variety of resources available freely to educators. Be sure to set up a free portfolio where you can store all your favorites from the site. Same Warning as the Archive: There’s A LOT here. Don’t get started unless you can devote some time to looking around.

Not Enough?? Head here for more links to resources.

Don’t forget: Anyone can contribute to the Creative Commons, so as your students develop their own multimedia materials, they can upload them to the Creative Commons website or the Internet Archive to share them with others.

Other Copyright Materials

Copyright Quiz

Want to see how much you know about traditional copyright? Go ahead…take the quiz:

Hall Davidson’s Copyright Quiz at

Now, read Davidson’s very detailed guide to traditional copyright:

He lays it out nicely and provides a link to a chart of the guidelines:

The Problem With Copyright As We Know It

Thanks to John and Tom for pointing me to the new collection of Life photos available through Google Image search.  Both of them ask the same question: what about the copyright? And rightly so since there is nothing on the page itself to help a general user figure it out. The Google blog is excited about the images but doesn’t seem to think copyright is an important enough issue to mention.

My gut reaction as someone who talks to educators about copyright* is that the pre-1920 photographs are in the public domain since their copyright has expired.  Of course, I suppose that Life would claim they own the digital files,  but since they are simply recreations of the original file rather than significant transformations, I’m not sure that argument would hold out.  The newer photos would be covered by traditional copyright so if teachers and students wished to use them for purposes not covered by fair use, they would have to ask for permission.

I decided to test out my gut reaction by seeing what others were saying.  Search Engine Land quotes the press release:

LIFE’s Photo Archive will be scanned and available on Google Image Search free for personal and research purposes. Copyright and ownership of all images will remain with Time Inc.

But, they also point out that the FAQ page offers a different take on possible uses:

What can I do with the images I find from the LIFE photo archive?
You can browse and view the images you find, rate them, and see detailed information about the photographs. There is also a link to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.

Poking a bit more, I found Slashdot’s report of the images.  It doesn’t talk about copyright, but copyright is discussed in the comments.  At least one commenter agrees with me about the public domain status of the older photos.   But he also points out that proving public domain for the digital images would involve a costly legal battle.

This gets to the heart of the problem with copyright: it’s all grey area.  The US Copyright Office makes it clear: “The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.” I generally tell people that their fair use rights end when they post a project to the web.  And the distinction between the photo and its digital image seems a pretty grey area as well.

John recommends that, in order to stay safe and legal, it would be best to use them only for personal use.  And the rational part of me agrees.  But the irrational part is a little annoyed.  Shame on Google and Life for not being more clear about the copyright! These are iconic images and for students and teachers learning about history, being able to use these photos in multimedia projects would be wonderful.   As John also wisely suggested, a Creative Commons license would make this so much easier. Non-commercial uses could be permitted while commercial uses, which is clearly what Life is going for here, could be controlled.  What’s to lose?

*I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my audiences: I’m really liberal and I’m not a lawyer.  I think teachers and students should be able to do whatever they want with materials they find as long as they are using them for educational purposes.