Fair Use of cartoons

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  • I have been collecting cartoons, using screen capture software, and putting them in PowerPoint files. These cartoons relate to libraries, information seeking, Internet, education, etc. I run the file in a loop before my research instruction classes, to give the early birds something to see that is related to research in some way. Plus, I use classroom control software, and I wanted to give students something amusing but thought provoking to view. I have been using a different (new) set of cartoons each semester. I haven't used the old cartoon files. Is this a fair use of copyrighted material?

    Another question I have is that I found a Foxtrot cartoon that perfectly illustrates the problem of misinformation on the Internet. I have been including a screen capture of this cartoon in many of my instruction sessions. I think I've been using it for 1-2 years. I've been looking at different copyright guidelines, and one suggests that you can use copyrighted material in a multimedia presentation for up to two years. Is this correct?

    Since I've probably hit the two year mark, I want to seek permission from the copyright holder to use this cartoon in my classes. I don't know how to do this. Does anyone know the procedure. For instance, do I try to contact the cartoonist or the syndicated service that runs the cartoons?

    If I were to buy one of the cartoonists' books that contain this particular cartoon, would it be fair use to use it in a PowerPoint presentation? If so, for how long?

    Thanks so much for any information on this subject. My institution probably cannot afford to pay what I've heard some syndicated services are asking, like $100 for 3 months use. But I would like guidance on my questions listed above anyway.
  • From my perspective (not legal advice), I would evaluate your use by considering the four factors of fair use (section 107).

    Factor one: purpose of the use.

    It sounds like you are using the cartoons for educational purposes. If the use is for a "real class" - meaning an actual course at an educational institution, and if the educational institution is non-profit and if the use is makes a real contibution to the goals of the course, I would say factor #1 indicates a fair use.

    BUT we have to look at all of the factors before we finish our analysis.

    Factor two: nature of the material being used

    In general, highly creative materials - like cartoons - tend to receive greater copyright protection than materials that are said to be less creative - like a simple chart or graph. Also if the material is current and a hot selling item, then that material is considered more protectable. So in terms of factor 2, this is not a fair use.

    Factor three: amount of material used

    In general, the more you use the less fair the use. However, sometimes one must use an entire image to make the use worthwhile. I imagine this may be your situation. So with factor 3, your use is on the border but I would say towards fair.

    Factor four: effect on the market for the work

    I would consider where you are finding these images. Are you finding these images on a site that you pay a subscription for?? Are the images available for sale in their digitized form or print form? If you use the images, does the copyright holder lose a sale? Factor four is difficult because we know that the copyright holder should have an (almost) exclusive right to make money on the images. On the other hand, just because you can seek permission and you can pay a fee does not
    automatically mean that the use is unfair. When you hold a lawfully obtained copy of the images (in a book as you suggest), there is an argument that the copyright holder has made the sale. You need to consider all of this before determining if factor 4 is fair or not.

    When I get to this point in a fair use determination, and things do not appear to be crystal clear, then I go back and look at all of the factors and ask myself, what is the most important thing here about the use? I think it is the educational purpose of the use. You wouldn't be making the reproduction if not for teaching purposes.

    But also consider, can I meet my teaching goal in another way (without using the cartoons)/ Or does the cartoon just nail an idea you want the students to learn? Is the cartoon truly value-added to teaching? If so, then I would say this is a fair use.

    Others may feel this use is unfair. Ultimately, you must decide.

    Have teachers faced litigation for using a cartoon image in the classroom for teaching purposes? Not that I am aware of.

    A very helpful guide when considering fair use is the "checklist"
    developed by Kenny Crews and Dwayne Buttler. It is called "Checklist for Fair Use" and is available online. Try this web address:
    http://extended.unl.edu/pdf/fairusechecklist.pdf or search the web.

    If you ultimately decide to seek permission for the use of the cartoon, I would start with where you found it in the first place. Is it on a web site and can you contact the "webmaster?" Or is it in a book? Then contact the publisher who should know if the cartoonist holds the copyright to that cartoon or if the publisher has rights to the image. Another option is to see if the cartoonist has his own web site. Perhaps you can go directly to the source (the cartoonist) and negotiate a license to use the cartoon for teaching purposes only.
  • Thank you Carrie, for carefully considering my question. Your answers were comprehensive and understandable and useful. I am going to bookmark the copyright site you sent.

    Since sending the list my question, I found a e-mail link to the cartoonist whose work I was using. I was surprised and greatly relieved when I received a reply from him! To quote Bill Amend (author of Foxtrot) "The use you describe is fine with me. Using it more broadly would require a more formal permission from my syndicate."

    When I email Mr Amend, I didn't think I would get a reply. I first received an autoreply thanking me for my interest, and informing me that I may not receive a message due to the sheer volume of mail he received. But, I thought, before I contact the syndicate, which I know would require a payment I could not afford, I would email Mr. Amend. I'm glad I did!

    Carrie, thank you once again for such a careful analysis. I can use your approach in the future when faced with such a dilemma. I may also be able to use it as a model, your approach not your actual words, if faculty and staff ask me copyright questions.
  • Thanks for your kind words. I am delighted that the network was helpful and that getting the permission from Mr. Amend was so simple.
    Hooray! :D

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