Copyright Question: Using Audiovisual Works in a Satellite-Delivered Program

Article excerpt

The advent of technologies such as cable television, computers, satellites and interactive video is forcing a change in education. No longer must teachers and students be in the same room at the same time for effective instruction to occur. Distance learning is reaching across borders and boundaries to deliver high-quality education to people who formerly had no access to traditional programs.

The satellite is a potent instrument in the distance learning field. The College of Business at Colorado State University, in partnership with Mind Extension University: The Education Network, offers a Master's of Business Administration degree via satellite transmission. Any qualified person in North America can receive an MBA from Colorado State University without setting foot on campus.

* Breaking New Ground

The satellite-delivered MBA program is unique in the distance learning field; no other MBA courses are delivered by means of satellite transmission. As with every new technology, some questions have arisen for which there are no precedents. Of primary concern is the use of copyrighted audiovisual works.

The MBA courses are videotaped during regular class meetings on campus. The videotapes are then broadcast via satellite on a delayed basis. Students nationwide receive the courses on television in their own home, either directly off a satellite dish or from their local cable company.

The concerns arise when a professor shows a copyrighted audiovisual work in class. That action by itself is legal within certain guidelines. The questions occur when that particular course is then transmitted via satellite. Is it a copyright violation to have that copyrighted audiovisual work, originally shown in class, now broadcast via satellite and carried on local cable systems? Within the Copyright Act itself are clues that will help in examining the issue. However, there have been no court cases to date addressing this exact situation.

* Copyright Law

The primary purpose of copyright is to promote the public welfare through the advancement of knowledge. Granting creators rights to reproduce and distribute their works provides incentives for progress in the arts and sciences. The constitutional basis for federal copyright legislation is the legislative power of Congress, with subsequent interpretations by the courts.

Facts and ideas are not copyrightable, but the manner in which that fact or idea is presented is copyrightable. A work must contain some element of originality or creativity of expression. Works of the federal government are generally not copyrightable. Works published more than 75 years ago are in the public domain and no longer protected by the Copyright Act.

The first United States Copyright Act was enacted in 1790. Throughout the years, the document was amended and refined. The Copyright Act of 1976 was the fourth major revision, and with its amendments is the effective legislation concerning copyright issues today. In enacting the 1976 Act, Congress noted that "significant changes in technology have affected the operation of the copyright law ... The technical advances have generated new industries and new methods for the reproduction and dissemination of copyrighted works..." (H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, page 47).[1]

Copyright has traditionally been concerned with the works of the artist, author or composer. Substantial technological changes are putting a strain on the basic copyright scheme because technological changes alter the degree to which the creators can control their works.[2]

Creators used to be solely responsible for making and disseminating their works to the public. Now it is common for other people to make copies with photocopiers or videotape recorders. The public can reproduce the works themselves. In certain situations such actions are not copyright violations because they fall under the realm of "fair use."

* Fair Use

Fair use can be defined as a public usage of a copyrighted work for which the copyright owner is not compensated because the usage is minimal and is in the public interest. …