Trainer's Guide to Copyright, Pt 1

When, how and how much of someone else's material may a law enforcement trainer use? Val Van Brocklin lays out the Fair Use exception to copyright in easy to understand terms.

Amount of the work used.
Amount is measured both quantitatively and qualitatively - neither with any exactness. Acceptable quantity is evaluated relative to the length of the entire original. One article in a larger journal or one chapter in an anthology may be considered an entire work. Courts are more sympathetic when the amount copied is limited to the amount needed to make the educational point, so any effort to edit portions of an article may help with finding fair use.

Images are tough because a user nearly always wants the full image. However, a thumbnail, low-resolution version or a small-sized replica of a poster might be an acceptable amount for training purposes.

The qualitative aspect is also a challenging call. Even short clips of a movie may borrow "the heart of the work" or the most extraordinary or creative elements.

Effect on the value of or market for the work.
Basically, if your use impacts the purchase of an original, this factor may weigh against fair use. Occasional quotations or photocopies may have no adverse market effect. If you sell the copied material, adverse effect may be presumed. Copying a workbook, textbook or other commercial work meant for the educational market, even if you don't charge for it, is disfavored because that can have a direct effect on the intended market. Likewise, reproductions of software and videotapes can adversely impact the potential markets for those works.

A handy fair use checklist based on these factors may be found at the web link below.

The use of titles

Generally, copyright law does not protect the single title of an original work. Federal trademark or unfair competition law may, however, protect a series title. In fact, federal trademark law permits the registration of a series title. And unfair competition might occur if you used a specific title in a manner that might create a likelihood of confusion regarding the source of the publication in the minds of the purchasing public.

I don't know if the Chicken Soup series has been registered but if you want to publish a collection of humorous and inspiring cop stories, I recommend T-Bone Steak for the Cop Soul. Since I thought of it first, however, if you beat me to the book you ought to give me credit for the title. Not because it's the law but because it's the right thing to do.

Uses with permission

Let's not forget consent - in searches and seizures and in the use of copyrighted material. If the use you want to make of a copyrighted work is not within the fair use exception, try getting permission. A web link below will take you to instructions for requesting permission and a model permission letter.

There is also a link below to the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). CCC is a nonprofit organization that provides content licensing services to creators and users of content. Corporations, universities, law firms and government agencies purchase licenses from CCC for the rights to use and share published material. CCC collects and then distributes royalties to copyright holders.

It goes without saying...

But I'm going to say it anyway: always give credit to the author or creator even if your use of her materials falls within the fair use exception.

Next month...

We'll look at some actual scenarios that law enforcement trainers might find themselves in and what the case law has to say about them. And because law enforcement agencies are governmental - not commercial or nonprofit educational - we'll look at special guidelines for their reliance on the fair use exception.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.