Fair Use & Ethical Citation Principles

As you start to think about what you’d like to include on your project site, bear in mind that, for any image, audio file, piece of written text, or video, you need to seek permission from the creator (and/or owner) and properly cite it. Since you are creating sites that fall under the category of “educational,” you have a bit of leeway here: Fair Use. Fair Use under U. S. copyright law allows you to take a small portion of a work, alter it and/or give it additional context (i.e., annotate it or quote from it), and use it as long as you cite the original source: the creator and/or owner of that content. To take an example, let’s say you would like to use a brief, 30 second excerpt of a musical performance that took place on your university campus. You would cite the musicians, as well as the source of the audio file: the Special Collections archive at your university. It would not, in this case, be necessary to track down each of the musicians and secure written permission from them.

Ideally, the material you are using will be licensed through Creative Commons: there will be a CC BY icon which tells you exactly how the creator wishes to have her or his work cited. Virtually all of the content in Wikimedia Commons is licensed in this way (and, once you have finished your project sites for this semester, you should take advantage of the free, easy-to-follow steps through Creative Commons to license your own sites).

However, there is a great deal of content on the web that is not licensed through Creative Commons, and so citing it correctly takes a bit more thought and care. You can use the interactive Fair Use Evaluator tool to determine whether your use of a particular piece of web content is legitimate or not. Here is a brief video explanation of key principles of Fair Use. Lastly, an archivist and copyright expert at Sonoma State, Paula Hammett, sent me this flowchart on copyright and ethical citation principles, which can be useful as well.

Where to insert your credits for material: usually, if possible, all images and other files should be captioned: photographer/creator, title, year, and location of the image. If it’s not convenient to add the credit right underneath the image (as, for example, on your header images), then create a Credits page on your website and list all pertinent information there. If you are citing from a written text, you can insert author and page number in parentheses in your text and then provide full bibliographic information in MLA format on your Works Cited page at the end of your project site.

If you have any questions about citing material, whether on the web, in library collections, or elsewhere, try consulting with your university librarians or as Dr. Snow or myself.

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