What’s legal? (Part 1)

Recently, a colleague approached me and asked about copyright and fair use as it pertained to education.  As many people on campus begin to include more multimedia projects as forms of assessments (digital stories, podcasts, etc), she basically asked, “What’s legal?”  Is it okay for students to include movie clips in their digital stories?  Is it legal for students to use famous photographs in their projects?  What about the use of popular music?

To answer these questions, I’ve decided to set aside the next two weeks to discuss copyright implications.  This week, I’ll give a general overview of copyright law and highlight some resources that I use when I discuss fair use with my students.  Next week, I’ll feature some great online sources of multimedia content that can be used with student projects.

To better understand copyright, let’s start with some basic definitions.  Copyright is a set of rights given to authors, artists and other creators of original work that protects how their creations are used, copied, distributed and adapted.  While copyright laws protect a person’s creative works, the laws also provide the opportunity for those creative works to be used by others as long as the works are used fairly.  So, what counts as fair use?  United States law allows for the limited use of copyrighted material for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship.  Typically, four criteria are used to detemine whether use of copyrighted material is fair or not.

  1. the purpose and character of the use
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount of the copyrighted work is used
  4. the effect of the use on the copyrighted work’s value and potential market

So what does all this mean for us as educators and for our students?  Well, it depends on whom you ask.  An article in Tech & Learning about 8 years ago provided a copyright chart that detailed different educational uses of copyrighted material and the amount of the material that could be used.  Since the chart was really straightforward and easy to understand, many schools adopted the chart (or similar ones) as the law of the land.  More recently, however, copyright charts have come under scrutiny by groups like the Center for Social Media that see the charts as being overly restrictive and sometimes inaccurate.  They have developed Guides of Best Practices to provide direction when choosing copyrighted materials in different situations.  Rather than giving specific restrictions, each of the documents provides basic principles to help guide people as they face recurrent situations.  Here are links to their code books:

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for OpenCourseWare

When teaching about copyright and fair use in my instructional technology classes, I discuss the current debate.  I introduce the copyright chart and its prevalence in schools.  I also discuss the Guides of Best Practices and help them understand the principles.  For example, one of the basic principles provided in all of the guides is that the use should transform the copyright work in some manner.  I find this principle is easier for students to understand and apply in their classroom projects then following the arbitrary limits outlined in the copyright chart.  Whether having students follow the chart or the Guides of Best Practice, it’s important that students have some boundaries and that they understand that they don’t have free, unfettered access to copyrighted works for their projects.

Next week, we’ll discuss public domain works, Creative Commons and different online sources for multimedia.

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4 thoughts on “What’s legal? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Roleplaying with xtranormal «

  2. Pingback: Nine copyright-friendly sites for student multimedia projects «

  3. Pingback: Public domain images for student projects «

  4. Pingback: Rewind: Nine copyright-friendly sites for student multimedia projects «

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