Research Materials & Copyright

“Sources” may also be defined as research material, including newspapers, magazines, books, research reports, studies, polls, radio, television, newsreels, documentaries, movies, audio podcasts or video from the Web. All such sources, particularly secondary sources, should be carefully vetted. Good journalists don’t simply extract information, or claims, from written or broadcast material; they check that material against other or similar material for accuracy. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s accurate or fair. Wikipedia, for example, is not always an accurate source and should not be cited as such.

The reporter must clearly indicate where information comes from. Failure to disclose your reliance on someone else’s work is unethical, and can leave readers or viewers in the dark about the legitimacy of the information. This does not hold true if something is a well-known fact that is beyond reasonable dispute. For example, it would not be necessary to cite a source for “John Adams was the second president of the United States.”

Fact checking information: Students should always check spelling, ages, job titles, company descriptions, and other facts before submitting stories. Nothing undermines a reporter’s credibility more than errors of fact. In addition, professors may ask students for sources’ contact information to verify information; students must provide that information upon request.

Fair use: As a writer you can legally use a limited amount of copyrighted material for purposes of commentary and criticism, and parody, without first seeking permission. A book reviewer, for instance, may quote from the text she is reviewing; a film reviewer may outline the plot of a film to discuss whether the story holds together; a comedian may conjure up characters from a popular movie to be able to poke fun at it. Without the protection of fair use, copyright holders could prevent negative reviews or parodies of their work from being published or broadcast.

Although you might not know if from the wild-west world of the Web, copyright laws, severely restrict the way other peoples’ work can be used, even in news stories. For example, the following are clear violations of fair use:

▪ Photo ripped from The New York Times Web site.

▪ Picture of a magazine cover.

▪ One minute of music from the latest U2 single.

▪ A 3-minute clip from a movie.

▪ A facsimile of a map taken from Google Maps or Mapquest.

▪ Large tracts of text from a research report.

With video or broadcast, fair use usually applies if the material is 30 seconds or less. It can’t be used as “B” roll — secondary material such as establishing wide shots of a location; cutaway views of people, props or scenery; or audio used in a video. Much of what defines whether fair use applies is dictated by whether the excerpt goes to the heart of the copyrighted material (if so, it is a violation of fair use) or whether it is merely explanatory.

For example, a KCAL-TV broadcast of a 30-second clip taken from a 4-minute copyrighted video videotape that showed trucker Reginald Denny being beaten during the 1992 riots was found to violate fair use. The court ruled that the broadcast borrowed from the heart of the video, and affected the copyright owner’s ability to market the work. Yet when documentarians took 41 seconds from a boxing match for use in a biography of Mohammed Ali, the court ruled it was not a violation of fair use because only a small amount of footage used, and its purpose was informational.

In 2005, the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers and the Independent Documentary Association endorsed a Statement of Best Practices, which defined four types of situations when producers need not seek permission under fair use:

▪ “Employing copyrighted material as object of social, political or cultural critique.” In other words, the videographer can use a snippet of the copyrighted work for purposes of commentary or criticism.

▪ “Quoting copyrighted works of popular culture to illustrate an argument or point.” The documentarian can use copyrighted material to convey a greater point — say, a clip from The Godfather to illustrate the ways that Italian-Americans have been portrayed in movies over the years.

▪ “Capturing copyrighted media content in the process of filming something else.” If a filmmaker accidentally tapes a cover to the latest Newsweek while following a character past a newsstand, or records a street band playing “Every Breath You Take” while shooting a panoramic of Washington Square Park, she can still use that material to avoid falsifying reality.

▪ “Using copyrighted material in a historical sequence.” A filmmaker or documentarian wishing to make a historical point may want to use words spoken at that time, music associated with the event, or photos or films created at that time. The producer should seek to license the material, but if this is not possible, or is simply too expensive, he may seek a limited fair use exemption under the following conditions:

▪ ▪ The project was “not specifically designed around the material”;

▪ ▪ it serves a vital critical function and there is no viable substitute;

▪ ▪ the copyright holder is identified;

▪ ▪ the project does not rely disproportionately on any single source.

Adding music to video and audio segments: Be forewarned that music is often covered by copyright. You need permission to use it. Even Bach may be covered by copyright: not the actual compositions, but the particular recording you might want to use.

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