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Copyright. Why it matters.

October 16, 2018

By Tyler Shaw


Let’s be honest here, truly original work is hard to come by today. Not in the sense that people aren’t being innovative or creating things we haven’t seen before, but in the sense that we all take inspiration/influence from others in our own work, whether we are conscious of it or not. Everyone is shaped by their upbringing, life experiences, and the media/art they’re exposed to. Although I believe nothing is truly original anymore, people still have a right to claim their work as original and copyright it. Like with language, media is a medium created to connect with others. Personally, when I stumble upon any type of media I connect to, one of my first responses is that I must tell so and so about it. Sharing is a humanistic quality that we will never shake.

When dealing with media (art, music, and film, etc.), sharing can become problematic. Most media available to the general population is copyrighted material. Now, what does it mean to copyright your material? According to Wikipedia, “Copyright is a legal right, existing in many countries, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others. This is usually only for a limited time. The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use.” I’m sure we could all guess why one, especially corporations, would want to copyright their material.

“Why do we still see copyrighted material in other media daily if that’s the case? I see YouTubers use movie clips and copyrighted music in their videos all the time?” This could mean one of two things. Either the YouTuber is using the material unlawfully and they just haven’t gotten caught yet, or they are rightfully creating within the “Fair Use Law”. According to, “In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner.” Determining what is considered “transformative” can be a grey area when using copyrighted material. If you are unsure if it’s safe to use copyrighted material in your own work, there are always safety procedures you can take.

ALWAYS credit the material you are using. You can credit the material in your project credits and/or description. If it’s video material you’re using, it’s also recommended to place a link of where you got the material from if not from the original source. Another safety tip is to keep the material short. If you are using a video clip or a song, only use a few seconds of it to get your point across. If that feels too short, abide by the 10% rule. Don’t use more than 10% of the original material.

After following these guidelines, it’s still possible that your work can be flagged for inappropriate use of copyrighted material and have a claim made against you. Don’t freak out. You’re allowed to fight any claim made against you by proving you are within your rights of the Fair Use Law. A simple explanation of why you used the material you did and how it “transformed” the material. Often, the claim will be removed if you’re making a valid argument for your work. Being a filmmaker and content creator, this topic is always in the back of my mind when creating my own work. Especially with my upcoming documentary on mental health in music, I need to especially be careful of what copyrighted content I use and how I use it. I’ve always believed that creating is a selfless act because it allows others to relate and connect with the creator and others who experience the creation. In the words of J. Cole, “You was inspired by the world, allow the world to be inspired by your shit.”


 Sites To Use For Free Music:

FMA (Free Music Archive)

DeWolfe Music Library






“Copyright.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Oct. 2018,

Slavik, Nathan. “J. Cole's Wrong About Sample Clearance on ‘Note to Self.’” DJBooth, 15 Dec. 2014,

Stim, Richard. “What Is Fair Use?” Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center, 11 Apr. 2017,