Most of the media you encounter are protected by copyright law. Many of these materials are also designed to prevent you from easily copying or manipulating them. In software, these copyright protections are generally referred to as Digital Rights Management (DRM) protections. “Cracking” the DRM on these materials and copying them falls into some legal grey areas. In America, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) criminalizes the circumvention of DRM protections. However, there are “fair use” exceptions to copyright and to the DMCA rules. Cracking DRM and/or using copyrighted material may be permitted if you are engaging in activities like parody, criticism, teaching, and transformative work.
Copyright and fair-use are complicated. Typically, determining fair-use happens on a case by case basis. There are four principles guiding fair use and they need to be kept in balance. There is no easy set of rules to guide your actions and choices. If you want to practice remix and produce media that utilizes pre-existing source materials, it is critically important that you educate yourself about fair-use and intellectual property law within whichever countries you are working.
For the United States here are some useful places to start:
Stanford University Libraries: Fair Use
Important overview of the four factors of Fair Use and general Fair Use principles. Critical reading for anyone considering utilizing copyright protected materials.
Stanford University Libraries: Copyright Overview
Important overview of copyright law in the United States. Critical reading for anyone considering utilizing copyright protected materials.
Copyright FAQ (from Electronic Frontier Foundation)
A helpful and easy to read document that will walk you through common questions about copyright.
Fair Use FAQ (from Electronic Frontier Foundation)
A helpful and easy to read document that will walk you through common questions about Fair Use.
Center for Media & Social Impact’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
CMSI has worked with numerous professional groups to develop code of best practices for their profession. These guides are useful for helping you think through copyright and fair use concerns that may affect you in your specific professional/personal circumstances. The guide linked here is for individuals creating web videos. You can find many other circumstance-specific guides on the CMSI webpage.
Important Guides for Cinema and Media Studies Instructors in the United States:
SCMS’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use in Teaching for Film and Media Educators
This code of best practices in fair use in teaching for film/media educators was designed by The Society for Cinema and Media Studies. It deals with classroom screenings, broadcasts, and derivative works.
SCMS’ Statement of Fair Use Best Practices for Media Studies Publishing
This Statement of Best Practices identifies what media scholars consider to be fair use of copyrighted works within media studies publishing in the United States.