Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Resources for Understanding Fair Use

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.

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.

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