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Copyright guidance

Information about copyright issues relevant to research, publishing, and teaching.

Digital Content Rights Evaluation and Clearance

Stanford's Office of the General Counsel has created a checklist to support faculty, students, and staff who are creating and distributing digital content. Copyright and other intellectual property rights are commonly impacted in these projects, and require careful consideration.  Download the full checklist, including sample permission request form.

Important consideratons include:

  • Use of third-party copyrighted or trademarked material or use of a person’s likeness without permission in digital content (e.g. videos) may be illegal and may expose Stanford to significant financial liability and reputational risk.
    • Examples include sound recordings, audio-visual recordings, photographs, illustrations, music compositions, excerpts from published books, artwork, third party logos or trademarks, and a person’s voice, image or performance.
  • Please keep in mind that non-profit/educational use does not mean it is fair use per se and it is difficult to predict what would be considered permissible use in court. Accordingly, you should not use protectable content without permission unless you have performed proper fair use analysis. The default rule is, you typically want to obtain express permission if you can.
  • We have observed a recent increase in enforcement activities by the music industry. The advent of automated systems to flag unauthorized use of sound recordings make it easy for the industry to find unauthorized use.  The statutory damage under US copyright law means that the copyright owner can demand $750 to $30,000 per work infringed, without the need to prove willful infringement, making it financially lucrative to undertake such enforcement activities. 
    • For example, a short promotional/informational video produced by your department that uses 2 soundtracks as background music in the video could create $1500 to $60,000 of potential liability to your department, even though the video is for non-commercial purposes and might have only attracted a few views. 
  • Recommendations: In addition to always making sure that you obtain proper permission for use of third party materials, we recommend the following measures to minimize our exposure:
    • Review your existing video inventory and remove videos that may contain unauthorized third party content
    • Periodically remove older/infrequently-used content from your social media channels, especially if you are not certain if permissions were obtained
    • Use public domain or free/open-source materials when possible, keeping in mind that not everything you find on the Internet is free for use. You should read the license terms to confirm that your usage is permitted under the terms (e.g. for a list of sites that offer songs under the creative commons license).
    • If “free” version is not available, you can also license the content from reputable sites/clearing houses (e.g. for soundtracks)
    • Please keep in mind that the University may be held responsible for student-generated content, especially if the content is uploaded by Stanford personnel (e.g. instructors/administrators) or hosted/distributed via websites or other social media channels controlled by Stanford. We should avoid uploading student-generated content unless we are certain that the content has been appropriately reviewed and cleared.