Prioritizing DataONE and Partner Tools for Screencasting, And: What is Fair Use? – Screencast Tutorials, Week #3

Screencasting and Copyright Law

If we make tutorials for third-party software, we will be showing someone else’s product. Such display of copies of artwork or music or film carries heavy legal implications, so the question becomes: what about showing footage of software?

I am definitely not a lawyer, but I did some looking around, specifically at the definition of fair use under US copyright law. I believe that the screencasts would fall under fair use, which is determined on a case-by-case basis using a four-fold evaluation:

  • Purpose: the screencasts’ purpose is entirely educational, for teaching. It is not for-profit or used alongside anything for-profit.
  • Nature: the nature of such screencasts is factual and concrete, not creative. There’s not really any chance that showing a part of the software will have it misrepresented as a claim on a novel piece of “art.”
  • Amount: In some cases, the tutorials would only show a small portion of the software (e.g., how to sort data in Excel). Even in cases where most or all of the functionality of the software would be shown (e.g., DataUp), a screencast is a non-interactive representation of something inherently interactive (software), so a tutorial can never reproduce the useful portion of the software. Compare this to a video walk-through of a story-centered video game, where viewers may watch just for the plot.
  • Effect: Any software shown will be recorded with a legally purchased copy of the software. By showing how to use the software, we will not be taking business away from the original creator, with one important exception: if the company that makes the software sells or licenses tutorials themselves (e.g., JMP, ArcGIS), our videos could be seen as competition.

As it turns out, the most highly prioritized tools were the DataONE tools anyway, so this is less of a concern for now.


This week I developed a prioritized list of tools in the Investigator Toolkit based on the follow points for consideration:

  • Use: more users and/or more frequent use imply greater demand
  • Existence and accessibility of help files, their quality and format: will screencast tutorials add anything new?
  • Complexity of tool: more complex tools may merit tutorials sooner.
  • Likelihood tool interface will change soon: tutorials for stable tools remain relevant longer
  • Ownership: DataONE vs. Partner tool vs. third party
  • Applicability of screencasts: Is this tool best demonstrated by video or another medium?
  • The developers: Most ITK tools given priority in a previous DUG survey are either unsuitable for video screencast tutorials (e.g., programming libraries – which might be suitable for demos) or are pieces of third party software with good documentation elsewhere (e.g., Mendeley, Matlab). The exception is DataONE drive, which hasn’t been released yet.

How many videos?

Last week, I wrote about how brevity (<30 seconds) is key when the audience is looking for how to accomplish a specific task. But I also mentioned that students new to material benefit from an outline and conceptual overview before diving right into material… while advanced students soon become frustrated by this. After some more thinking, especially in the context of the different tools, I believe the solution may be to create both an overview or demo video that introduces the capabilities, function, and purpose of a tool in its entirety (~2 minutes in length) and a series of quick (<30 second) tutorials on individual steps. Some tools in the Investigators’ Toolkit have the former; very few have the latter. We already have demos for the DataONE file system (ONEDrive), for Mercury, for Morpho, and an example use of R – niche modeling, and though this footage probably can’t be reused, the steps/storyboarding can be.

Next week I’ll begin recording screencast tutorials!

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