Dear CMSI,

I’m a grad student in communications, and I’m comparing the framing of news in various venues.

I want to publish my results with an online journal where I can use different media (e.g. radio, podcasts, TV, newspapers, magazines). What are the rules about how much I can use for free?  I’m on a small stipend, and my university won’t pay for any licensing, even if I can get in touch with the outlet’s licensing arm.

Thanks, Yi


Dear Yi,

Sounds like a great project! If you’re in the U.S., you can consider whether you have access to fair use. As you make your decisions, your best friend is the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Communication Research, created by the International Communication Association and endorsed by several other communications associations (CMSI facilitated the code).

Read the introduction and the first category.

As the Code makes clear (but you should verify), it seems you do have a strong argument for employment of fair use, the robust doctrine in U.S. copyright policy that allows free use of copyrighted material under some circumstances. There are no fixed rules or numbers for how much you should take, but there are general “rules of reason.” Judges these days—and for a couple of decades now—pay great attention to whether your use is transformative. That means using something differently than its market purpose. A radio news spot is designed to inform people at the time. You are doing something different—analyzing its news frame. Once the transformative purpose is established, judges look closely at appropriateness—how much you took in relation to the transformative purpose. Sometimes taking 100% (like with photographs) is entirely appropriate. But often you only need a short example from the work you are analyzing.

Got a question about fair use?  Write to cmsi@american.edu.