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Reformatting Media - VHS / DVD / Streaming

If you are considering converting media for course materials, the Georgetown University Library's first choice is to obtain media for its collections in a licensed format, and we do this whenever possible. Our Media Collection page provides links to assist you with locating licensed media in our collection, and the library staff is happy to assist you. Please contact us for more information.

For other media conversions, the Gelardin New Media Center has equipment and staff available to assist with the media conversion process.

Georgetown University faculty, staff, and students who wish to convert media from one format to another (e.g., VHS to a digital file or DVD) should be aware of applicable provisions of copyright law before requesting use of library equipment for such reformatting. Under § 106 of the United States copyright law, the owner of the copyright in a work has the exclusive right to make copies of that work, unless an exception applies. When considering reformatting media, please note that individuals do not have an automatic right to reformat a work from one format to another. In order to legally convert media, your use must fall into one of the following categories:

    • you own the copyright in the work,
    • you have permission from the owner of the copyright, or
    • you have done a fair use analysis and have determined that fair use applies

Under the fair use doctrin, there may be circumstances where a film, television episode, or other media can be reformatted (DVD or streaming) in its entirety . That determination has to be made on a case-by-case basis by weighing and balancing the four fair use factors.

Fair Use in a Nutshell
Fair use permits the limited use of copyrighted material without having to obtain a license or permission from the rights holder. Fair use is a flexible right that allows portions of any copyrighted work to be used. Fair use analysis is subjective, and users and copyright holders can disagree on whether a particular use is fair.

Digitizing an Entire Work
There is no easy answer to the question of how much of a film or other work can be digitized and reformatted relying on fair use. Due to that uncertainty, each film has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis looking closely at what is being used, how it is being used, and the potential risk in asserting fair use rights. In rare cases, reformatting an entire film could qualify as fair use; in the vast majority of cases, however, use of an entire film will not constitute fair use and could be challenged by the film’s owner or distributor.

Your fair use determination should be based on weighing and balancing the four factors below.

1. Purpose and Character of the Use

Using material in a non-commercial environment and for a nonprofit educational purpose, such as criticism and commentary, is generally favored under the fair use analysis. Courts will also look to whether the use is “transformative,” meaning that you did not just copy the original, but added new expression or meaning to it. Reformatting a documentary or feature film for educational purposes, such as commentary and criticism, will strengthen your fair use argument since that use differs from the original purpose of the film - entertainment.

2. Nature of the Work

Films are generally creative works, which weakens the fair use argument.

3. Amount Used

The amount of film you use should be only as much as is necessary to support your lesson or illustrate your point. In some cases, digitizing an entire film could qualify as fair use.

4. Effect on the Market

There is an impact on the market if the film is available for purchase, so the library will not reformat media if it is available for purchase or streaming from a licensed source.