Fair Use in Digital Storytelling

Jessica Meindertsma, the Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, has been extremely helpful with answering our copyright questions or those of our workshop participants, and we approached her to write a blog post for our site. 

Well, for the first day of Fair Use Week, which “celebrates the important role fair use plays in achieving the Constitutional purpose of intellectual property rights in the US: to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. The flexible nature of the fair use doctrine has permitted copyright to adapt to new technologies and changes,” Jessica wrote about Fair Use in Digital Storytelling.

This article is cross-posted with Copyright Corner, the official blog of the Copyright Resources Center. If you have any questions, I encourage you to comment directly on their blog. Read more about Fair Use Week 2015 here. Thanks!

“…(A) digital story is a short (3-5 minute) movie which uses images, voice, and music to tell a story. There are a variety of media that can be used to create digital stories and a variety of reasons for creating them. ” – The Ohio State University Digital Storytelling Program

Authors of digital stories remix and reuse materials to create something new: a short video with a personal narrative. Authors write and record their own narration and often use personal photos, video, and sound; however, they frequently incorporate copyrighted materials from other sources in order to develop powerful digital stories. For example, a narrative may require abstract images to help convey a particular idea or emotion, or a specific element of meaningful culture such as a quote from a favorite book or photo of a particular event.

The stories produced in connection with the OSU Digital Storytelling Program are posted on YouTube and shared on campus through occasional viewings. In order to promote legal use of third party materials and avoid takedown requests, participants in the OSU Digital Storytelling Program are encouraged to source materials as much as possible from the public domain, licensed collections (e.g. Creative Commons photos on Flickr), or create things themselves. However, there are times when an author wants or needs to use copyrighted material, and wants to rely on fair use or seek permission in order to proceed.

As defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, fair use is a defense against charges of copyright infringement determined through the analysis and application of the four fair use factors:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fair use exception is quite broad and can apply to a wide variety of uses (which could include digital storytelling) but the lack of specificity can make it difficult to ascertain whether or not a particular use may qualify as fair use.  Those considering fair use, should employ a fair use checklist to conduct an analysis and weigh the criteria favoring and opposing fair use (our video provides more information and an example of doing a fair use analysis).

Fair use and your role as a digital storyteller

As a digital storyteller, you may have the option to rely on fair use depending on what material you are using, and how and why you are using it. A fair use analysis will help you evaluate your answers to those questions.

The first factor of fair use is concerned with the purpose and character of a proposed use. As an author, you should think carefully about the purpose of your digital story. Is it educational? Are you commenting on, criticizing, or parodying the copyrighted work you wish to use? These types of purposes favor fair use.  Transformative use also weighs in favor of fair use. If you use a copyrighted work in your digital story for a purpose other than which it was originally intended for, you may be able to make an argument for transformative use of that material. Using your favorite song as a soundtrack to your digital story is not a transformative use, but criticizing the lyrics of another song for its message of oppression or intolerance could be a transformative use.

Ask yourself whether you need a particular work in order to accomplish the purpose of your digital story. If you simply need some piece of material that depicts archery as a recreational activity, then you do not need to use a clip of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.  You can likely find a public domain or Creative Commons licensed photo, or even take your own photo. On the other hand, if your digital story critiques or comments on the character of Katniss Everdeen specifically and how she contributes to the reversal of traditional gender roles in the Hunger Games, then you may actually need a clip or photo from the films to support your narrative.

The second factor of fair use requires you to assess the nature of the work you are using. Is it factual or fiction? Published or unpublished? Is it highly creative? Many materials likely to appear in a digital story, such as music and photos, are considered highly creative works; this weighs against fair use, but it could potentially be balanced out by the other factors.

The third factor of fair use considers the amount and substantiality of the portion of the copyrighted work being used. Ask yourself how much of a particular work you need to use in order to accomplish your purpose. In your digital story about how the television show The Walking Dead saved your life because it inspired you to prepare for emergencies, will a still image from the show suffice, or does your story comment on a particular scene that you need to show as a video clip in order to fulfill your purpose? To strengthen your argument in favor of fair use, use only the amount necessary to fulfil the purpose of your story.

The “substantiality” component of the third fair use factor refers to the significance of the material you want to use in relation to the entire copyrighted work. Could the scene you want to use from The Walking Dead be considered particularly significant to the show or a particular episode? This is sometimes referred to as using the “heart of the work”. Another way to phrase this could be: “how big of a spoiler is it?” Showing the death of a main character or major events from a season finale could be considered the heart of the work and weaken your argument for fair use (particularly if you did not necessarily need to use that particular scene to accomplish the purpose of your digital story).

The fourth factor of fair use considers the effect your use of the material could have on the potential market for or value of the original work. Could your use impact the copyright owner’s ability to profit from his or her work? Digital stories have the potential to cause a detrimental effect on the market for a work because they are accessible to the public online, and they will remain available for a long time. For example, using a popular copyrighted song as a soundtrack for your video could impair the market for that song by providing a substitute for purchasing the song as an MP3. Viewers could simply play the digital story whenever they wanted to listen to the song, as opposed to going out to buy their own copy.

You must consider all four factors of fair use when evaluating whether or not you have a strong argument in favor of fair use. No single factor is more important than the others; for example, an educational purpose does not automatically qualify a proposed use as fair use. Additionally, although each factor is equally important to a fair use analysis, checklist criteria should not be tallied up with a simple “majority rules” determination. You should keep an eye out for significant problems that could outweigh other criteria, such as a particularly damaging effect on the market for a work.

Still have questions about fair use? Contact the OSU Libraries’ Copyright Resources Center for assistance:

Email: libcopyright@osu.edu

Phone: 614-688-5849

Website: go.osu.edu/copyright

Twitter: @OSUCopyright


By Jessica Meindertsma, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

Choosing STEP: Amanda Conklin and Alexander Cea

If you missed it, read this introduction by Vicki Pitstick, the Program Manager for the Second Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP).

The next two STEP students we’re featuring are Amanda Conklin and Alexander Cea. Watch their stories on deciding to become part of STEP, and then read some of their thoughts about STEP and digital storytelling below!

What do you want people to know about your story?

Amanda: I created my story for a certain audience, the current STEP students. There were certain messages I wanted these students to take away from seeing my story.  When you’re in STEP you don’t really know what you are going to do, and it is all a little overwhelming.  I wanted my story to give them some hope for the process they are going through, not just the experience at the end.  I had a wonderful experience in the program because I took advantage of all the opportunities STEP offered me.  I wanted to encourage them to not just worry about figuring out their experience, but grow as a person in this university.

Alex: I want people to understand that I have not completed my STEP experience yet, and my digital story was to demonstrate the power and potential that the program has to offer.

What did you enjoy the most about reporting out in this way?

Amanda: I enjoyed the entire digital storytelling workshop, but by far my favorite part was the story circle.  I think storytelling is a lost art.  I felt the entire group bond over telling each other stories.  I enjoyed hearing others’ stories, and I was amazed by what my peers had accomplished already in their lives.  Because there were a few story circles including a showing of the final product, it was really interesting to watch the stories develop.  I learned several things during the workshop.  One was I learned I can use a Mac operating system! And second was that storytelling is a cathartic process.  It makes you think about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you are going to do.

Alex: Since the entire process takes one weekend I felt like I made some really good friends while constructing my digital story. I learned about the story telling process and enjoyed the story circles and sense of community that they built upon.

What was the most challenging part of the workshop? Or the most rewarding to get through?

Amanda: I am a PC girl.  Apple software and I do not work well together.  So when I learned at the start of the workshop that I would have to use iMovie I just thought ” oh boy”.  And I did have some problems; for example there was a time when I was creating my video where I wondered if I would ever be able to make a credits  slide.  But with a little help from the facilitators and some perseverance, I made it through!  I ended up creating a great digital story and now I feel like I can conquer any Apple program.

Alex: My script changed multiple time during that second day, the story circles and the 7 elements guide were useful for developing drafts. I was not able to take all the ideas given to me and use them in my final script. But a lot of ideas were heavily influenced by others’ suggestions.

What would you say to students about digital storytelling who are still deciding on how to report out their STEP experience?

Amanda: Especially considering the STEP staff have decided to curtail the ways in which a student can report back, I would encourage using digital storytelling because it allows creativity.  I am an engineering student and don’t often get to use the right side of my brain.  Being able to create this digital story broke that barrier.  Also the digital storytelling was a great way for me to reflect on my STEP experience.  I don’t think I had realized the extent to which STEP transformed me last year until making my story.

Alex: Digital storytelling is a great way to have something to show people after you have completed your STEP experience. Presenting at the STEP expo is a good way to show off your accomplishments at one point. But once you leave the union you have very little visual aid of what you did with your time. The digital story telling process is a form of narration that is unique all on its own and should be considered for its long term use for the individual and the STEP website.

Amanda Conklin

Amanda Conklin is a third year majoring in Environmental Engineering.




Alex Cea

Alex Cea is a third year majoring in Chemistry.

STEP Digital Stories: DaVonti’ Haynes and Matthew Fry

If you missed it, read this introduction by Vicki Pitstick, the Program Manager for the Second Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP).

The first two STEP students we’re featuring are DaVonti’ Haynes and Matthew Fry. Watch their stories on education and travel abroad, and then read some of their thoughts about STEP and digital storytelling below!

What do you want people to know about your story?

DaVonti’: I would like for people to gain a better understanding of just how complex inner-city and Appalachian school districts are.

Matt: The thing I want people to take from my story is how great traveling is. Many can perceive it as scary or unnecessary, but it can really make a huge difference. By taking a trip I was able to learn so much more about another part of the world and understand how people of a different culture live. I was also able to learn a lot about myself, which might be the most important part of the trip.

Why did you choose to report out in this way?

DaVonti’: I was inspired to report back this way because I knew that my experience was an on-going experience (outside of STEP) and I wanted to do something that I could continue to update and potentially add to a portfolio.

Matt: I chose to report back this way because I knew it was the easiest way to share my experience with the rest of the STEP community. My advisor had brought up the idea of us all making videos last year and I really like the idea. When the idea of a digital story was brought up I jumped on board because I knew that I could tell so many more people with a short video than a poster presentation.

What was the most challenging part of the workshop? Or the most rewarding to get through?

DaVonti’: I think the most challenging part of the workshop is deciding which parts of your experience to include in your story; because you have so many things you want to add, it’s hard to decide what to delete.

Matt: I think the most challenging part of the process was putting it all together at the end. It was a long process writing and editing the script for the story, but once I had that the task of putting it together proved to be harder. Finding the right music and pictures for the story was a very delicate process, and it didn’t help that I’m not the most tech savvy person. It was definitely worth it though. Seeing the finished process and receiving praise from my peers made me glad that I had decided to do the workshop.

What would you say to students about digital storytelling who are still deciding on how to report out their STEP experience?

DaVonti’: I would highly recommend every STEP student to report back via digital storytelling because it is a fun and easy way to reflect back on your experience, especially if your experience is on-going; as you could continue to add to it.

Matt: Digital storytelling, in my opinion, is the best way to report back about your experience. Instead of presenting at poster forum where there is only one chance for someone to learn about what you did, you now have a short video you can show anytime. You can keep it on your phone and show anyone with questions about what you did, plus it can be posted online so anyone can learn about your experience from the convenience of a computer or phone.

DaVonti' Haynes

DaVonti’ is a 3rd year student in Public Affairs and hails from Cleveland, OH.




Matt Fry

Matt is a 3rd year pre-med studying Microbiology, and he is originally from Springboro, OH. 

Vicki Pitstick: Introducing Digital Stories with STEP

STEP Group Fall 2014

A partnership between the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Life, the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) at Ohio State focuses on both student engagement and student development in an effort to enhance second-year success. Building upon key components of second-year success, students live on campus, participate in key co-curricular programs and activities, learn through peer interaction, and are guided through interaction with faculty mentors, who they meet with weekly, to assist them in enhancing their personal, academic and professional goals.

Students also have the opportunity to engage in a transformational experience at the conclusion of their year in STEP in one of six core areas (internships, leadership, study abroad, service-learning, undergraduate research, or artistic and creative endeavors). As a result, students gain greater self-awareness, explore educational interests and further develop career goals and aspirations.

At the conclusion of their experience, STEP students are then asked to report back in some way:  through a presentation at the STEP Expo or a research forum; through a performance; or via another creative route.  After attending a conference session about digital stories and creating one myself in an OSU workshop this past summer, I felt that giving a student the opportunity to “report back” about an experience via a digital story was a perfect vehicle.  Digital stories encourage people to think about how something has improved or changed them, or TRANSFORMED them, exactly what STEP is all about!

In October, 8 STEP students participated in a weekend-long workshop and created digital stories about their STEP Experiences – reflecting on what they experienced, how they felt about the experiences, and what they gained from them.  It has been amazing to see the transformations that have materialized for these students depicted on-screen via images taken by them, or of their own choosing, and narrated in their own voices.  Their digital stories are thoughtful, heartwarming, and inspirational – we could not have asked for better outcomes for our STEP students!

These 8 students are now preparing to assist other STEP students in creating their own digital stories in workshops.  They look forward to the opportunity to help others find their voices and share their journeys.

Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing digital stories and thoughts on the digital storytelling workshop from various STEP students. -Ed


Vicki Pitstick is the Program Manager for the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program at Ohio State. She was also a participant in the Summer 2014 Faculty/Staff Digital Storytelling Workshop.

Beth Anderson: Workshop Impressions

When I signed up for the OSU Digital Storytelling Workshop last summer I had my own little “agenda”. I wanted to learn the necessary software to create digital stories (iMovie and GarageBand). I wanted to learn how to “teach” the process and I wanted to create my very own story. Little did I know how much more meaningful this experience was going to be and what a positive impact it would have on both my personal and professional life.

The OSU Digital Storytelling Workshop was more than just a “class” on digital storytelling and how to incorporate it into the classroom. It was a hands-on, shared journey learning to tell our own stories. Using the 7-elements of Digital Storytelling, the story circle and dynamic use of pictures and video I was able to experience the power of telling a story firsthand. Script-writing, storyboarding, adding narration, images and appropriate soundtracks became a rich adventure when shared with the other participants in the group.

I came to the workshop thinking I would learn software, digital editing tools and the basics of digital storytelling and ended up being given the remarkable gift of telling my own story through the support, encouragement and feedback of the others in the group. I am now an advocate for Digital Storytelling as an unequaled tool to enhance a class, change lives and create meaningful connections with others.

Beth Anderson, Reference Specialist, University Libraries , 7-25-11

Beth Anderson is a Reference Specialist in the Student Technology Assistance Center at the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library at Wright State University. She teaches the course EDT110: Creating with Multimedia.

Elena Foulis: Digital Storytelling and Community


When I applied to participate in OSU’s digital storytelling workshop in the summer of 2014, I expected to learn about how to create a video.  I wanted to go through the process of building my own digital narrative so I can better assist and guide my students when they are ready to build their own for the service-learning classes I teach.

Initially, I was apprehensive about my limited technical abilities but trusted that the experts would guide me through the process of choosing the right “stuff” that would make my digital story visually appealing. I feel I accomplished that, but the workshop also helped me put into words the passion I have for the work I am doing. I’ve always been a reader of stories and a photography aficionada, so I was able to use images, sound and voice to tell about what I’ve learned from the stories of others. This workshop helped me highlight my oral history project about Latino life in Ohio in a way that speaks about how I have been moved by the life histories of my participants, and also by the transformations I’ve witnessed in my own students and myself.

Needless to say, this workshop spends quite a bit of time on script writing and editing, perhaps as much as the time spent on picking the right image that represents the words written on the page. I learned to listen deeply to the stories of the other participants in the classroom as well, and was sweetly touched by each and every one of the stories I heard. As participants in this workshop, we provided feedback to each other and, at times, we were speechless by the stories heard and also by the unanimous realization that our group formed a type a kinship through storytelling. This was unexpected.

Digital storytelling not only provides a venue to express yourself, it also helps to carefully consider each and every piece of the puzzle you are about to construct. For example, what is the dramatic question you want your viewer to consider? The combination of visual images, voice-over and musical background bring to life the stories we carry with us, or the stories of those we want to honor. In the classroom, digital storytelling aligns well with reflective thinking, which is a major component of service-learning pedagogy. It pushes students to experience a profound sense of place and a real-world connection to language and people as they work in the community and carefully draft their digital narratives. It allows them to document lived experiences of proximity to people and places new to them.

Digital storytelling gives life to the written text, promotes students’ creativity and provides a new and innovative platform to assess student learning. Since digital narratives are short, only 4-6 minutes, it demands that we capture the attention of the viewer/listener immediately so he or she will listen closely to the story we are trying to tell. As an instructor, I am able to review this process and I provide feedback on my students’ scripts. Ideally, I can also provide feedback on images and music they choose for their project. Their final stories are shared with classmates at the end of the semester and I am able to evaluate their participation in the community in a way that a final power-point presentation could not.

Thank you Queenie, Alex and Brian for helping me go through the process and more confidently make use of digital storytelling in my classes!

Elena FoulisElena Foulis is a Senior Lecturer and Outreach & Service-Learning Coordinator from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

“If it were my story…”

This site is intended to promote and advance digital storytelling at the Ohio State University as a tool for research, teaching, and professional development. We will feature facilitators, participants, and other guest contributors who have had experience with our process. This first post comes from one of our workshop facilitators, Brian Leaf, and his thoughts on facilitation as he reports on working with STEP Ambassadors.

I’ve been struggling to figure out what would be an epic post to kick off this new but still incomplete program website. I suppose most people would just start posting the type of stuff you plan on without the pomp and circumstance.

But that’s not me.

There’s not actually going to be any real hullabaloo, but I’m the type of person who does find meaning in beginnings–and it wouldn’t really be me if I didn’t say something about it. Nor would it align with our workshops in which one of the essentials of our process is helping others use their authentic voice. And I hope those involved in our program continue this trend in future blog posts.

But I can only write for myself, and the topic I’d like to tackle today is Story Circle facilitation. The Story Circle is a structured process of sharing and offering feedback within the workshop cohort. It was developed by the CDS, and I was to fortunate to participate in a workshop facilitated by none other than its founder Joe Lambert.

He’s been doing it for two decades, and it’s clear he’s a dude that knows how to pull out stories. But as much as I try to channel him, I’m not him. And it occurs to me that I need to own the process by bringing my own understanding to it beyond quoting him with conviction. 

This weekend, we’ve been working with a group of 8 Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) students who have volunteered their time to participate in a digital storytelling workshop. We started Friday at 5:00pm and we’ll be going straight through until Sunday at 4pm. During this time, they will script out and produce a 3-5 minute story about their STEP experience.

group(Left to right) Matt, Amanda, Brianne, Danni working finishing up their scripts before the Story Circle. 

Of course, we had two Story Circles during the process, and they both went fairly well. This amazing group of students have been engaged all along the way, and I believe you can see that in their stories (when we are ready to post). It’s great to see the support they offer each other.

I mean, I wasn’t particularly concerned that anything would go wrong, but as I think forward about how to train them to be peer facilitators, I can’t help but think of all the potential pitfalls.

Things that go wrong in Story Circles aren’t obvious–in fact, I would say they’re pretty subtle: dominant voices, quieted individuals, and going off-topic for too long. Sometimes there’s no community to speak of–no contributions minus those of the facilitator. Conversations don’t get beyond polite suggestions and light banter. These are things that might be expected in work meetings, but the problem is that the Story Circle needs to be better than that. It’s not just a meeting.

What makes a digital storytelling experience successful is the development of a community of practice. In order to do so, participants need to be able to be vulnerable and honest with their stories and feedback. When you’re dealing with potentially sensitive topics, the space also needs to be a safe one in which there is room for deeper dialogue while still maintaining appropriate boundaries.

Therefore, we have rules or guidelines for the group to follow.

For instance, “If it were my story…” is the key phrase that we ask participants to use or to sprinkle in their feedback. It may sound contrived, but it’s one thing that reminds us that the story does not belong to us. We don’t imply it or assume it. We say it as a way of self-regulating our own privilege in the group, even if we “know” for sure that what we have to say will make it a more powerful story. And then by going in order in the physical circle, we ensure that everyone shares and gives feedback. 

But memorizing this guideline and others are just one part of being a facilitator in my opinion. They provide a road map, but I believe truly managing the process consistently at a high level requires owning these rules as your own, reflecting on them frequently (as well as other story resources), and truly understand their rationale. The effort it takes to do so is minuscule compared to the heavy consequences of not.

This blog post is another personal step in that direction–with plenty more to come, I’m sure.

Anyway, thank you for getting through this inaugural musing that I probably shouldn’t have tried to write in the middle of a workshop (they’ve been script writing and only asking the occasional question). But look out for additional content as well as digital stories and contributions from our STEP Ambassadors in the future!