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Are You Violating Copyright? at #ALAVirtual2020

This year’s ALA conference has had a few sessions on aspects on our new COVID world. One, called “Trouble in Paradise: are you violating copyright by using social media read alouds?” featured four panelists, who gave their interpretations on copyright law for several scenarios.

Most relevant for most of us, was this scenario: Can I post a read aloud or storytime to social media however I want, and then, if challenged, just say that I’m a librarian or educator and need to use it to support my students in a special circumstance?

The firm answer from the panel was no. Special circumstances, be they a hurricane or a pandemic, do not exempt us from following copyright law. Here was some of their advice:

  • Avoid posting on public channels that anyone can access. A private Youtube channel is better than a public Youtube channel. And even a private channel can still be stolen from, even under the best of circumstances.
  • If a publisher has given permission to use copyrighted materials at this time, follow their instructions exactly, and take down the content by the date the publisher specifies.
  • It’s not enough to get permission from an author. Many, many people are involved in copyright, and though many authors would love to have all educators share their work widely, they aren’t the only ones who get a say.
  • Fair Use is often cited as a way to “get around” copyright laws, but that’s not how Fair Use functions in the law. Fair Use does not permit for example, reading a book aloud on Instagram, as long as you only read a certain percentage.

Ultimately, the panelists stressed that copyright is interpretive, which means that it is not always cut and dry. We also have to remember who copyright protects in the first place. One panelist shared a 2018 Author’s Guild Study that showed that the median author income is only $6,080 a year. If we want creators to be able to continue making the wonderful works we share with our patrons, we need to act ethically and respect their protected rights to that work.

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