Addressing Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom

Curated by Erin Wilkey Oh
January 20, 2012

Right click. Cut. Copy. Paste. Save image as.

Is it free for the taking? Or am I breaking the law? Our classrooms have gone digital, and we find ourselves teaching not only the traditional essentials like reading and writing, but new essentials like digital citizenship and online ethics. Is it always wrong to use an image you find on the Internet? High profile copyright lawsuits like those against Napster have instilled in many of us a fear of violating copyright law. However, the copyright law’s doctrine of fair use allows educators, students, professional media creators, and others to use copyrighted materials in certain situations. Fair use provides space for remixing, sampling, and mash-ups. Fair use allows for parody, satire, commentary, discussion, and criticism. Understanding fair use is a critical element of the digital classroom. 

This collection gathers resources shared on Digital Is that can be used by teachers and students to better understand their rights in regard to the copyright law’s doctrine of fair use. The doctrine of fair use is not a definitive “do this, don’t do that” guide to the use of copyrighted material. Instead, it can be interpreted differently depending on the specific situation in question. Several professional organizations have created codes of best practices to help practitioners in various fields determine whether use of copyrighted material is advised in different situations. Three of the five resources in this collection present different codes of best practices, all of which could be used in classroom lessons addressing copyright and fair use.

The first resource in the collection, Code of Best Practices for Media Literacy Educators, helps educators make informed decisions about the use of copyrighted materials in lessons and student work. The second resource highlights the Code of Best Practices for Online Video, which can also be applied to student work, as students are increasingly creating mixed-media projects and videos to demonstrate learning. The third resource, Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, was created for professional documentary filmmakers, but can be a guide for student filmmakers as well. The fourth resource featured in this collection continues to look at the specific challenges for documentarians with the comic book Bound By Law: Tales from the Public Domain. From Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, this comic was created to look at the delicate balance between intellectual property and the public domain. Finally, in the last resource, Joseph Conroy, of NWP@Rutgers, presents a recommended collection of tools for educators interested in unraveling the dillemma of copyright and digital texts.

What's Inside