Can I Use Media Found on The Internet in My Science Video?

In talking with colleagues and students, I find that quite a few of them are confused about intellectual property, copyright, “fair use”, and public domain. The ready access to material on the Internet has added to the confusion. So I thought I would write a series of posts on the topic.

In this first post, I will define those terms and provide some useful links to additional information. Note that I am not an expert on copyright law; if you need legal advice, please contact an attorney.

Intellectual property:

Intellectual property is any creation arising from one’s mind. Such creations may be literary or artistic works, musical works, machines or devices, software, original processes, drugs or other chemical compounds, designs or images, and datasets, to name a few. Intellectual property is protected by either a trademark or service mark (for a name brand or logo) or by copyright (for a form of expression, such as a book or video). Read more at and


A copyright is a type of protection afforded to the creator(s) of “original works of authorship” (literary, artistic, musical), both published and unpublished, for a period of time, which varies by country and other variables. As soon as a work is fixed in any medium (including the Internet), it is automatically copyright protected. Copyright only protects the form that the work takes, not the subject of the work itself. Ideas, facts, concepts, principles, and discoveries cannot be copyrighted. Read more at

Fair Use:

The term “fair use” refers to the limited use of another’s work without permission. It is generally used by those who create commentary, criticism, satire, review, or scholarly critiques in which small portions of the original work need to be displayed for illustrative purposes. The concept is often misunderstood and improperly applied, however. Read more at The application of fair use to video is thoroughly discussed in this video:

Public Domain:

Works in the public domain can be freely used by anyone in any manner. However, it is not always easy to determine the status of a work. In the U.S., works published before 1923 are in the public domain, but guidelines for later works are more complicated and based on several criteria (date of creation, whether published or not, lifespan of the creator, whether copyright was renewed). Works created by a U.S. Federal Government (not state or local) employee in the course of their duties are also in the public domain; however, Federal agencies may employ contractors or hire a private company—their works may not be in the public domain. Read more and find additional links at

Determining the true status of a work often involves quite a bit of sleuthing. Keep in mind that many works have been reposted on multiple websites, often without permission; tracking down the original content owner is your responsibility.

How to Make a Book Trailer: Part Four

We are talking about how to create a media trailer for a book, which is designed to attract potential readers. In the previous posts, I described my own experience creating a trailer for my recent book, The Scientist Videographer. I explained that you need to study other book trailers (step one), identify the central message you wish to convey and elements from your book to include in the trailer (step two), and visualize and acquire the media to use in your trailer (step three).

In this post, I describe the fourth and final step, which is to compile your material and produce the trailer with a movie-editing application. You may be thinking at this point that movie editing is too technically challenging. To create my book trailer, I used the desktop version of iMovie and built the trailer from scratch. However, I will show you a really easy way to create a book trailer using iMovie for mobile devices. This application has an option for creating movie trailers, but it can be modified to make a book trailer. iMovie has templates and instructions that make it super easy to combine your video, still images, and text to produce a professional-looking trailer. iMovie does most of the work; all you have to do is drop your media into placeholders and then render the video. I used my iPad for the demonstration, but you can use an iPhone to shoot and edit your book trailer.

As you will see, I walk you through the iMovie 2013 app (for iOS) and show you how to create a book trailer. (be sure to select the HD version and full-screen for best viewing):

As you saw, the iMovie app is easy to navigate, and the movie-trailer templates provide a structure to guide you. You should be able to find one to fit your book type. If you don’t like any of the trailer templates, you can still use the basic movie editor in iMovie 2013 to create a book trailer from scratch, as I did. In fact, with this app, you can create several trailers for your book, each emphasizing a different aspect of the book or targeting different readerships. If you are working on a series of books, it would be easy to produce multiple trailers to advertise each one. There are a lot of possibilities once you learn the basics of movie editing.

If you want to learn more about planning, shooting, editing, and sharing videos to promote your work, check out my book, The Scientist Videographer (it’s not just for scientists).

How to Make a Book Trailer: Part Three

camera_operation_klmckeeThis is step three in a series of instructions for creating a book trailer. If you’ve not read the previous two steps, you may want to do so before proceeding.

OK, now you’ve got the core message for your book trailer written and the key elements outlined. The next step is to gather or create the visuals for your book trailer. If at all possible, let pictures tell your story. In fact, it is helpful to make a storyboard, which shows the complete sequence of scenes that will comprise your trailer (easily done with post it notes or PowerPoint, as I describe in my book). Either sketch out or use a photo to illustrate each scene and indicate how many seconds will be spent on each one. By estimating the time for each scene, you can more easily keep your trailer within your target time limit.

If you watched my book trailer, you’ll see that most scenes lasted no more than one or two seconds. I was aiming for a fast-paced trailer that accelerated over time. What times you set will depend on the pacing you are going for (more than five seconds per scene, however, will make your trailer seem to drag). Important point to keep in mind: Even though you are describing a book, which may be read at a leisurely pace, your trailer should be designed differently—to satisfy the expectations of a video viewer, rather than a book reader. By this I mean that the content (what the book is about) should appeal to the book reader, but the way the information is delivered should meet the expectations of a video viewer (brief with mostly visual elements, constant movement and addition of new information, and appropriate music carefully keyed to the visual elements—to name a few). See my book for more detailed information about what video viewers expect.

The media you use will depend on a number of factors, including your book’s topic as well as your abilities. You can use video clips, still images, animations, or graphics to serve as visuals in your trailer. The big question is where do you get those media you want to use? In my case, I had a whole library of film clips and images I had shot during years of scientific research. My problem was deciding which ones to use. Authors of textbooks may also have a good library of images they’ve acquired about their topic. However, most authors will not have a lot of visual media at hand and will have two options: to go out and shoot whatever video or still images they need or use media from an outside source.

The latter option may appear to be the easiest approach, but let me caution you to use only media (images, music) for which you hold the copyright (or have gotten permission/paid a fee to the copyright holder) or use media in the public domain (and even this can be tricky). There are many misconceptions about copyright and “fair use”. Just because you can download it does not mean you are legally justified in using it.  But this is a good rule of thumb: Assume that anything on the Internet is copyright protected unless evidence to the contrary can be found. I devote an entire chapter in my book to copyright as it relates to video.

Your best option is to create your own content. Take your smartphone, iPad, or camera out and shoot whatever you need. If you’ve seen something online that you like, try to duplicate it with your own footage or still images. Collar some friends, relatives, or co-workers and get them to help you recreate a scene or action from your book. Use your imagination and have fun!

Once you’ve captured all the media necessary to tell your story, the next step will be to create the trailer. In the next post, I’ll provide a video tutorial that will walk you through the process of compiling your media into a book trailer using a powerful, but inexpensive movie-editing app for mobile devices.

How to Make a Book Trailer: Part Two

In this series of posts, I’m describing how to make a book trailer, which is a video designed to attract more readers to a storyboard_cover_klmckeetextbook, a novel, or some other written document. In the previous post, I talked a bit about how book trailers are being used in publishing and then began describing the steps I went through to create a trailer for my recently published ebook—The Scientist Videographer. I explained that the first step is to study other book trailers to get some good ideas and to figure out what style of trailer might work for your book.

In this post, I will cover the second step in the process.

Step Two: Hone Your Story. In this step, identify your core message and then select key elements from your book and organize them in a way that will intrigue a potential reader. What your message will be and the elements you select will depend on the specifics of your book. Begin by describing what your book is about. Strip it down to the essential story it tells (or what it teaches, in the case of a textbook). Strive to condense your story into a single sentence. In my case, I wanted to get across the message that the reader will learn how to make science videos (for various purposes), which will help them reach a broader audience with their science message.

Next, you want to outline some key elements from your book that will serve to deliver that core message. Here is the text I outlined, which was organized into four main segments:

1. Opening sequence

-A few visuals to get the viewer’s attention
-Book title and author

2. What the reader will learn:

-How to shoot your video
-How to interview
-How to edit your video

3. How the reader can use what they learn:

-Film scientific methods
-Film class field trips
-Create animations
-Create video abstracts for journal articles
-Record class lectures
-Create online lessons
-Develop outreach materials
-Explain current events or discoveries
-Raise your visibility and build an online profile

4. Ending sequence:

-Book title and tagline
-Where to buy the book and get more information

That list probably doesn’t sound very exciting to most people, but it would be to a scientist who wants to learn how to use video to deliver a science message. So think about those elements that are likely to excite your readers. You don’t necessarily need as many as I outlined. For an adventure travel book, you might hone your list to five intriguing statements, for example:

They traveled into the wilderness.

Where their knowledge and skills were tested.

Where perseverance was everything…

…and failure was not an option.

This summer—get ready to read..

[Insert title of adventure travel book]

Also, once the visuals and music are added, the words in your list will come alive. Note that I did not include every aspect of my book in the trailer—just a few tidbits that would convey the essence of the book. I planned to get my message across primarily with visuals, so I used minimal text and no voice over. This approach worked for me, but you might want to verbally explain (on camera or with a voice over) some aspect of your book or your motivation for writing it. Another idea is to have one or more people act out scenes from your book.

Also, I set a time limit of one minute (give or take a few seconds) to get my message across. Any longer, and most viewers will stop watching. By setting a time limit, you are forced to focus on the most important or intriguing aspects of your book and leave out things that are redundant or less interesting. You may find that setting a time limit for the trailer also will get your creative juices going (a topic I discuss in more detail in my book).

You can take the same outlining approach I used to identify key elements. Most authors are familiar with outlines and will find this approach most comfortable. However, eventually you are going to have to develop some visuals to compose your trailer. So if you can begin imagining those visuals as you outline, all the better. You can describe these visual elements in words or draw some simple scenes on your notepad to illustrate what you might include in the way of media in your trailer. I’ll expand on this point in the next post. For now, focus on honing your central message and identify what elements to use to deliver that message.