Educators and copyright owners have drafted guidelines that they hope will lead to clear-cut copyright laws involving the Net and multimedia.
After much discussion, negotiation, and compromise, the group drafted the Educational Multimedia Fair Use Guidelines, which will be submitted to legislators and the courts for consideration.
Ultimately, it will be up to the courts to decide if the Copyright Act has been violated. Although no court cases that outline these issues are pending, judges can consult the guidelines when one is filed.
Copyright law has become an urgent issue with the rapid change in technology and the free flow of information on the Net. But the laws are anything but clear when it comes to enforcement.
For example, under the 1976 Copyright Act, a professor who wants to use three minutes of a motion picture or digitize a photo during a class lecture risks being sued by the copyright owner. According to act, educators must obtain copyright permission to duplicate or change an image, but the law doesn't address the production of educational multimedia.
To tackle the problem, 50 groups representing copyright holders and education institutions met monthly at the Consortium of College and University Media Centers from June 1994 through last month.
"We always felt there should be some fair use for educational purposes, but the law was unclear as to what extent educators could use copyrighted materials," said John Raffetto, spokesman for Creative Incentive Coalition, which represents copyright owners. "Both sides felt there was a need for some guidelines."
Under the proposed guidelines, educators would be able to use their multimedia productions, which contain portions of copyrighted material for teaching purposes, for up to two years after the first presentation. Use beyond two years requires obtaining permission for each copyrighted portion that is used.
In addition, if at any time the educator wants to commercially reproduce or distribute the work online, he or she would have to obtain copyright permission for all copyrighted material.
Raffetto says the committee plans to tackle even more complicated copyright issues with online service providers and ISPs, but not anytime soon.
"We need the online services to be reasonable about these discussions and be willing to meet to discuss these issues," he said. "But to date, I don't think we've seen much willingness to budge from their position, so I think it's going to take a long time."