Simple Editing


When you're collecting media for instructional purposes, it's common to find clips that are longer than you want. Maybe you want to trim the content for length, or you want to focus on a specific element. That's where editing comes in. You do not need sophisticated equipment to do basic editing--for the most part, modern computers are adequate to the task of basic trimming and clip assembly. Whenever you work with others' content, you need to be aware of the potential for copyright infringement, and how to nagivate fair use law to avoid a potential litigation situation. When content creators like yourself apply the Creative Commons license, there's a tremendous potential for sharing more content and more knowledge.

Learning Objectives

  • Find the Fair Use Checklist, a guide for navigating copyright law
  • Recognize, describe, and build a Creative Commons license for content
  • Perform a trim operation in QuickTime to reduce a video clip's length (a basic edit)
  • Perform trim/assembly operations in the YouTube editor or Mozilla PopcornMaker
  • Identify an instance of cloud filmmaking
  • Locate open source films

Discussion: a Primer on Copyright Law

You found the primer! Copyright law is challenging to navigate, and it's further obfuscated by the (intentional?) misinformation being slung around by various media interests. Fortunately, Columbia University has assembled a helpful checklist for you to review whenever you want to include someone's copyrighted content as part of your work. This can be applied to many different forms of media, including video, music, sound effects, or still images.

Columbia University Libraries Copyright Advisory Office
The Fair Use Checklist (pdf)

creative commons iconDid you notice this funny graphic on the Columbia University page? This is a Creative Commons license. You can use this internationally-recognized license to help protect work that you want to share. You can create your own, applying customized restrictions, such as forbidding commercial activity or derivative works. This is helpful in a few ways, because you can help ensure that your work is properly credited, but you can also re-use materials that others have produced (with appropriate restrictions and/or attributions).

A great place to get these sorts of materials is the Flickr Creative Commons galleries. For your convenience, the galleries are further separated according to their varying license restrictions. These galleries are great for getting still images to use, but did you know you can also use the advanced search filters to get video, too? Neat, huh?


Okay, so after collecting some content, we probably want some tools to edit it down. Rarely do we get exactly the material we need for a specific purpose. This is where editing comes in. It doesn't have to be a lengthy or arduous process--it may be as simple as trimming start and end points to focus on exactly the material you want. This is really easy to do with a program like QuickTime Player.


In this example, I have about a 12 second clip that I want to trim to 3 seconds (Special note: even though this can be done as a nondestructive edit, it's always a good idea to keep a backup of your original media somewhere, just in case something goes wrong). I select "Trim" from the "Edit" menu, and then I get a yellow frame with handles on each end that I can drag around to select just the portion of the video that I want to keep.


Once I've got my selection, I click on the trim button, and the front and end portions that weren't selected get trimmed from the video. Congratulations! You just learned how to edit video, and you can now double your salary!

Ready to make more advanced edits, with transitions, titles, and music? The YouTube editor is a modest bump up in flexibility and control. Import your own clips (or your photos from Google Plus), or choose from a library of Creative Commons videos and music. I don't have time or space here to demonstrate how to use it, but there's a video guide here that you can follow, and at less than 8 minutes, it's a quick study.

YouTube editor

And of course, when you upload your own content, you have the option to give it a Creative Commons license so that others can use your content as well. If you want. There are lots of good reasons for doing this, including a new movement in digital filmmaking: Cloud Filmmaking. We'll get to that in a moment. Before that, I'd like to mention just one more tool in this space, and that is Mozilla PopcornMaker. Like the YouTube editor, this allows you to point to video or photo media you've found on the web and remix or recombine it to create your own original production. For both of these editors, there is no software to download or install, though you will need to create an account if you want to save your work.

Cloud Films

In 2012, a friend send me a link to A Declaration of Interdependence, a cloud film from the Moxie Institute that solicited media materials from contributors from around the world. The result is an extremely high-quality production that demonstrates just how good a film of this kind can look. It's not a difficult stretch to imagine students in a classroom similarly contributing footage for a class film project, tailored to your learning objectives.

Open Source Film

Imagine a future where you never have to hold a camera to put together a complete documentary on just about any subject. That's the idea behind Open Source Film, and you can find a list of such films on Wikipedia. This list is likely incomplete, since open source films can come from anywhere. I was especially intrigued to see a completely digital animation here: Big Buck Bunny