Last week, I introduced the concepts of copyright and fair use and provided some resources for determining what is legal to use in classroom situations. As more and more faculty members begin to use multimedia projects as forms of assessment with their students, I think it’s important that students realize that copyright law governs the use of media educationally. Whether they are selecting music for a podcast or incorporating video into a digital story, students must be aware that while copyrighted works may be used in certain situations, they don’t have complete, unregulated access to copyrighted materials.
This week, I want to talk about public domain works and introduce sources of multimedia materials for classroom projects. The term public domain refers to intellectual property not owned by anyone. As such, the works are open for use by everyone for any purpose. How does a work become part of the public domain? One way is by the copyright lapsing on a copyrighted work. For example, many older books are now part of the public domain. Check out Google Books and you’ll see many of the works from William Shakespeare, John Milton and Walt Whitman available for download for free. Google can do this because the copyrights on these works have lapsed and the works are now in the public domain. Another source of public domain works is the government. Any material created by the United States government exists within the public domain. For example, the NASA website offers images from the Hubble Telescope and videos from different space missions. All of this media exists within the public domain and can be used by anyone for any reason, whether for academic, commercial or entertainment purposes.
So, how can someone find public domain works? One way is by using commons.wikimedia.org. Developed in conjunction with Wikipedia, this site offers a searchable clearinghouse of mostly public domain works. I say “mostly” public domain works because the site also houses creative works licensed through Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a relatively new licensing system where creators can give up some of their copyright protections for the benefit of others. Developed by a Harvard law professor, Creative Commons seeks to expand the content that artists, poets, filmmakers and others can utilize in their creative endeavors. Much like the Open Source discussion in an early post, Creative Commons promotes “open access” to creative works where people have the ability to share their work with others freely. To see what media is available through Creative Commons, start by checking out the Creative Commons website. Besides Wikimedia and Creative Commons, there are other sources of content for student multimedia projects. For example, Freeplaymusic.com offers loads of free music for use with classroom assignments. When visiting sites that offer free content, however, it is important that students read the Terms of Service to make sure their academic use fits within a site’s allowable uses.