Fair Use or free-for-all?

Grabbing and using digital content from different places has never been easier. Our kids know all the tricks of how to get whatever they want whenever they want. Screenshot, image searches, downloading youTube videos and repurposing them is easy for the average teen. But are they allowed to take whatever they want? Isn’t it a violation of copyright? Or are their new creations just examples of fair use?

In my role as technology integration coach, I was asked to present to our ninth grade English classes that were creating a dramatic video that compared various themes of the Odyssey to modern literature or media. I think the teachers were interested in having me talk about the process of planning the project by using a storyboard and script and giving the kids some ideas of the technology options that they could use to complete the project.

In addition to teaching about planning, shooting and editing a video I also wanted to talk to the students about the importance of using images within the creative commons and respecting the intellectual property rights of others. When I watched the exemplars from the previous year I grew more concerned. There was clearly a lot of borrowed (stolen??) material included in their projects. When I discussed my concerns with one of their teachers we had an interesting discussion on remix and mashups and what the expectations for intellectual property rights should be in a project like this. This is when I started to dig deeper into the fair use exception of copyright laws.

As an interesting case study, I shared the story of the British rock band The Verve and the loss of huge royalties for their song Bittersweet Symphony. In the song, they sample part of an orchestral version of a Rolling Stones song and it cost them big time.

But this was a case of commercial gain where the monetization of intellectual property was involved. I discovered that fair use is a broad exception of copyright laws and that students have a lot of leeway because they are using it in an educational, not for profit environment. There are a lot of great resources on fair use that we can turn to for guidance on the subject. Of course, most of it is based on American Law. This was a bit of a problem because I was presenting to the international students that I work with in my international school in Saudi Arabia. When I search for information on intellectual property rights for Saudi Arabia one of the best sources referred me to the Fair use at Stanford University document which I had already read and used as a reference. So given the fact that our students typically attend university in North America or the UK, I continued to focus on American law.

These are some of the best resources I found on the subject.

This video from Common Sense Media is a great primer to show your students. I highly recommend Common Sense Media for Digital Citizenship learning. If you are an educator and you haven’t already done so create an account to access the amazing lesson plans they have on offer. There is also a lot of great content for parents and families. Be sure to check out this one on the #devicefreedinner.

So what was the final verdict? Were the exemplars just samples of what not to do or were they a classic example of fair use? The problem with fair use is that there are no hard and fast rules that will determine if you are going out of bounds. The resources that I have shared in this post certainly will help this year’s class to make more informed decisions about what and how to use content that is not originally their own. I also hope it gave some background information for their teachers to use when guiding their students through the process.

One thought on “Fair Use or free-for-all?

  1. Thanks for sharing this post, Andrew. Fair use is something that I think about a lot as I work on presentations and videos for use at school. I am finding that our students are becoming much more aware of it as well. After my Battle of the Books kick-off, I had a student ask me, “Did you have permission to use the music and video clips in your video?” I told him I felt I had made my video under Fair Use guidelines, and that it was just for school and not something I would post online. But even after all the reading I’ve done on Fair Use, I still wonder sometimes whether I’m understanding it properly. I will definitely explore the resources you’ve shared to expand my learning. I want to be a good model of digital citizenship and ethical use of content.

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