Friday, November 28, 2008

Fair Use Guide for a Digital Age

The Center for Social Media recently released "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education" which will help teachers and students in the United States navigate copyright in the digital age. At the focus is the U.S. Copyright Office's limit on copyright known as "fair use."

This code comes timely. As the "Code" reports, educators have often erred to liberal and conservative definitions, some believing anything used in the classroom was fair game while others believed they'd find police officers ready with handcuffs at their classroom doors if they so much as showed transparency of a magazine ad to their students and thus they "hyper-comply" to imagined rules.

What is are the limits on copyright, so called "fair use"? Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law states "the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered 'fair', such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. It also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

"The distinction between 'fair use' and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

Still, in the digital age which includes internet publishing of information and the natural inclination to encourage students to produce works for global audiences, the copyright office' definition of "fair use" falls short of clearly delineating what is acceptable and legal.

The "Code" document has been reviewed by five attorneys and endorsed by National Association for Media Literacy Education, Action Coalition for Media Education, National Council of Teachers of English, Visual Communication Studies Division of the International Communication Association, and Media Education Foundation.

The process was coordinated by Profs. Renee Hobbs (Media Education Lab, Temple University), Peter Jaszi (ProMedia, American Universitgram on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Washington College of Law, American University) and Patricia Aufderheide (Center for Social Media).

As teachers use the motivation of world-wide audiences for their students' voices by having them use and remix copyrighted material and produce their own copyrighted works (in America copyright is extent at moment of creation) via internet media, it become incumbent that we inform and guide them. The "Code" notes:

"In particular, educators should explore with students the distinction between material that should be licensed, materialthat is in the public domain or otherwise openly available, and copyrighted material that is subject to fair use. The ethical obligation to provide proper attribution alsoshould be examined. And 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

The "Code" is a sure step for teachers to prepare for such lessons and conversations with their students as consumers and producers of digital media. Get your copy now and school thyself.

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