The Cost of Copyright

Several times during the past few weeks, I have drawn on an article I read recently, The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy.  The article was published by The Media Education Lab of Temple University, The Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property of the Washington College of Law at American University, and The Center for Social Media at the School of Communication at American University, led by Professors Renee Hobbs, Peter Jaszi, and Patricia Aufderheide, respectively.

Information is Locked Up
The fair use of information by educators seems locked away.
The article seems to make two cases.  One is that we do not have a clear and authoritative definition of fair use for education and libraries — and second, that our current notions of fair use are excessively conservative, and that what and how students learn in our schools is suffering as a result.

The fair use guidelines that are followed most frequently is the Copyright in an Electronic Environment document, posted here at the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction web site.  According to the Cost of Copyright article, the group who established this document were almost exclusively content producers and owners with little or no influence from the needs of education and public information (libraries).  The only badge of authority is that the document is mentioned in the Congressional Record.

The article goes on to suggest that educators and librarians should work together to establish a document that ties more specifically to the admittedly vague allowances of Copyright Law, but one that empowers educators to teach with media and to teach about media literacy.  The authors described a similar effort by a coalition of Documentary Filmmakers organizations to establish a best practices document, Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.

Following its release, the Statement had an immediate effect.  Filmmakers themselves, commercial networks, and the Public Broadcasting System all refer to it on a regular basis. Perhaps the most powerful evidence of the transformation that the Statement has helped to work is the fact that most of the insurers who offer errors and omissions insurance to filmmakers are now offering to cover appropriately documented fair use claims.

In conclusion, the article suggest that…

First, the media literacy education community needs to educate itself further about the clear and unambiguous use rights that its members already enjoy under copyright law, including the important exception in the Copyright Act for the use of audiovisual materials in the course of “face-to-face” teaching.

Second, there is an urgent need to develop and desseminate a code of practice for the fiar use of copyrghted materals by media literacy educators, based on colelctive discussions of the ways in which education actually do and reasonably could use such materials, consitent with the law.  It is time for media literacy education to move beyond outworn “guidelines” and dubious and even unhelpful “rules of thumb.”  The imprimatur of leading professional associations on a new articulation of codes of practice would provide crucial legitimacy.

Image Citation:
Daniel, Jennifer. “Closed Information Booth.” KansasLiberal’s Photostream. 14 Apr 2007. 25 Feb 2008 <>.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.