RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Copyright and school bulletin boards - 12/20/2019
Teachers at our school like to use pictures from movies to decorate their doors.  What rules ...
Posted: Friday, December 20, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Teachers at our school like to use pictures from movies to decorate their doors.  What rules apply to this?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

At "Ask the Lawyer," we are frequently amazed at the diversity of the copyright questions we get.  When we started the service, we thought we'd often refer people back to answers that had already been covered.

But librarians always find a way to switch things up!

What are the new variables this time?

"Doors" and "images from movies."

We'll start with "images from movies."

Under the Copyright Act, the owner of the copyright controls the right to display still images from movies.[1]  So the member is right to flag this as a possible concern.

But we can potentially rest easy on that point, because educators have some special rights under the Copyright Act--if the material was legally obtained, and if  the material is used as part of the curriculum--and "displaying" images from motion pictures is one of them. 

Or, as Congress puts it in Section 110(a) the Copyright Act:

[P]erformance or display of [one legally obtained] work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction[is an exception to infringement].[2]

So, under 110, here is the analysis to answer the member's question:

  1. Is the decoration part of "teaching activities?"
  1. Did the teacher obtain the copy lawfully? 

If the answer to both is "yes," then the answer is: decorate the heck out of that door.

Having said that, I appreciate that the two factors set out above are not always easy to answer.  Frustratingly, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of either "teaching activities" or "lawful copies."  That said, using some grown-up versions of famous characters from my childhood, here are some examples of the "wrong" and the "right" way.

The wrong way to use 110

Teacher Mr. Goofus[3] does a Google image search for "Elsa," captures a bunch of screenshots from "Frozen," prints out color copies.  He puts them on the outside of the classroom door, together with a sign saying "Let it go, only a few weeks until Winter Break!"

The right way to use 110

Teacher Mr. Gallant uses the copy of the DVD owned by the school library to create a screenshot of the scene where Elsa is discovered to have magical powers.  He puts it on the inside of the classroom door, along with a sign saying: "This month we'll be reading the Scarlett Letter and discussing depictions of overcoming social alienation in popular culture."[4]

What do these examples show?  The more integrated with the course work, and the more legitimate the copy, the more the teacher (and the school) can claim protection under 110. (NOTE: Mr. Gallant could claim protection under "Fair Use."[5])

Which brings me back to the other variable: the door.  For a 110(a) analysis, what side of the door the movie picture is on is (potentially) relevant, since if the content is on the outside of the door, it's slightly harder to claim the material is part of "face-to-face teaching."  That said, if the link to an actual lesson plan is clearly perceptible (like in the "Gallant" example), I think it could work.

And there you have it. 

I have noticed this "door decoration" phenomenon when picking my kids up from school.  My poor children[6] never have a moment that is Harry Potter® or Elsa®-free.

But I get it, images from movies are a way to brighten the environment and get kids engaged.  Fortunately for the teachers of this world, if you follow its formula, Section 110(a) makes it okay.  This is good, since after taking a quick look, we could not find a non-paywall source for such images.[7]

But make sure the use is part of the curriculum!  Thanks for a thoughtful question.



[3] Before committing to this example, I checked to see if 1) "Goofus and Gallant" was still "a thing;" and 2) if modern norms of child psychology had decided they were based on any harmful tropes.  Wow, was a fun ten-minute tangent.  As the children's librarians out there already no doubt know, G&G is very much still "a thing."  Further, while a ton of fascinating stuff has been written about their antics (showcased in over a billion issues of "Highlights") they are still alive and illustrating extremes of youthful behavior--having outlived such contemporaries as lead paint, seatbeltless cars, and jarts.  Go, G&G.

[4] This is an appropriate assignment for fourth grade, right?

[5] Which the "Goofus" example would not qualify for.

[6] Am I just jealous?  I tried to remember what was decorating the doors of my elementary school in New Hartford, NY, circa 1982.  I am pretty sure the only decor was the sad remains of the people in "Oregon Trail."  Speaking of harmful tropes…

[7] If you know of one, please alert me at info@stephaniecoleadams.com.

 

Tags: Copyright, Movies, Section 110, Photocopies

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