This fair-use guide offers copyright shelter

Hoping to clear up the confusion over the "fair use" of digital materials in teaching and learning, a panel of university professors has developed a "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education."

The document clarifies how fair use applies to the most common situations where media-literacy educators make use of copyrighted materials in their work. It offers guidance for instructors so they can make informed fair-use judgments.

The guidance comes as research suggests educators are shying away from using digital materials in their classrooms, fearing they could be sued for copyright violation (see "Fair-use confusion threatens media literacy").

Created though a partnership among the Media Education Lab at Temple University, the Center for Social Media at American University (AU), and AU’s Washington College of Law, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the code identifies five principles of consensus about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials, wherever and however it occurs: in K-12 schools, higher-education institutions, nonprofit groups that offer media-education programs for children and youth, and adult-education programs.

The code is the result of a series of meetings with more than 150 members of leading educational associations, including the National Association for Media Literacy Education and the National Council of Teachers of English. Profs. Renee Hobbs of Temple’s Media Education Lab, Peter Jazzi of the Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, and Patricia Aufderheide of the Center for Social Media coordinated the effort.

Fair use is critical to understand, say the code’s developers, because copying, quoting, and reusing existing cultural material can help generate new cultural treasures. Yet a climate of fear and misunderstanding about copyright law–created, in part, because new ways of sharing digital information are emerging, just as copyright holders are trying to capture new revenue from various sources–detracts from the quality of teaching and learning, they say.

Among a series of questions judges ask when considering fair-use violations, one of the most important is "whether the user acted reasonably and in good faith, in light of general practice in his or her particular field," according to the code’s developers. Educators’ reliance on fair use therefore will be helped by this code of best practices, which will serve as a documentation of common understandings drawn from the experience of educators themselves and supported by legal analysis.

Here are the code’s five principles:

1. Employing copyrighted material in media-literacy lessons: Educators can use copyrighted material and make it available to learners in class, in workshops, in informal mentoring and teaching settings, and on school-related web sites. However, educators should choose material that is germane to the project and use only what is necessary for the educational goal or purpose.

2. Employing copyrighted material in preparing curriculum materials: Educators can integrate copyrighted materials into curriculum materials, podcasts, DVD compilations, and so on, as long as these materials are designed for learning. Also, wherever possible, educators should provide attribution for quoted material.

3. Sharing media-literacy curriculum materials: Educators should be able to share examples of teaching about media with one another, including lessons and resource materials. Curriculum developers should be especially careful to choose illustrations from copyrighted media that are necessary for the lesson, however. Often, this might mean using only a short clip or abstract instead of the whole work. Also, they should not rely on fair use when using copyrighted or third-party images or texts to promote their own materials.

4. Student use of copyrighted materials in their own academic and creative work: Educators should be free to enable learners to incorporate, modify, and re-present existing media in their own classroom work. However, students’ use of copyrighted material should not be substituted for creative effort, and attribution should be made wherever possible.

5. Developing audiences for student work: When sharing is confined to a delimited network, educators are more likely to receive special consideration under the fair-use doctrine. In situations where students wish to share their work more broadly, educators should take the opportunity to emphasize the permissions process. Also, students should be encouraged to understand how their distribution of a work raises other ethical and social issues, including the privacy of the subjects involved in the media production.

Along with these five principles, the code lists common myths about fair use and provides the truth behind these myths. For example, it explains there are no "rules of thumb" for fair use, and that fair use is situational–and context is critical. Also, educators don’t always have the last word on fair-use policy.

Temple’s Media Education Lab provides a video presentation on the code, as well as lesson plans and video case studies for introducing copyright law and fair-use practices to secondary students. In addition, the lab will release two "Schoolhouse Rock"-type music videos–"What’s Copyright" and "Users’ Rights, Section 107"–later this month.

Video on Fair Use for Media Literacy Education

"Young people’s knowledge and understanding of copyright is complicated–their attitudes about file sharing and ‘big media’ often create complex patterns of knowledge, misinformation, and negative attitudes. We wanted to offer key facts about copyright and fair use in an accessible, user-friendly way," said Hobbs.

A recent survey underscores the need for better copyright education among students. Conducted by the Josephson Institute–a Los Angeles-based ethics institute–and released last week, the survey of nearly 30,000 students at 100 randomly selected high schools found that 64 percent of students have cheated on a test in the past year, and 38 percent did so two or more times–up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.

Also, 36 percent of youth said they have used the internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.

Despite their responses, 93 percent of students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."


Temple University’s Media Education Lab

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education

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