Copyright Confusion

confusion.jpgThanks to an article in a recent issue of eSchool News I was introduced to an outstanding new report, The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy. The report is co-authored by researchers from Temple University and American University (American U. happens to be our librarian Mr. Saia’s alma mater). I found the report to be outstanding because it focused on interviewing educators to ascertain what they thought were the laws concerning copyright and fair use in the classroom. What they discovered is that regarding copyright law and fair use in the classoom, virtually all educators do not have a clear knowledge, never had any formal training, and relied on their own (or their organizations) guidelines to “see no evil,” “close the door,” or “hyper-comply.”

I saw myself represented in many of the examples cited in the article. In the introduction, an example is noted of a teacher who has students create mash-ups that include copyrighted material. Due to this, they do not show them on the school closed-circuit TV system, fearing copyright infringement. This is exactly the issue I am concerned with on a regular basis regarding what we can or cannot broadcast on our vBrick video system in school.

The gist of the report is that, due to confusion about what is actually allowed under fair use in the law, most educators and organizations are far too restrictive about what can be used legally in the classroom setting. The report goes on to mention specific resources, that I have used as guidelines, which are too restrictive. One is the work of Carol Simpson, whom I saw at a BOCES conference within the last couple of years. Another is the fair use for multimedia guidelines developed by the CCUMC in 1996. Educational copyright/fair use consultant, Gary Becker, cites the CCUMC guidelines as a clear way to stay legal in the classroom. I link to the CCUMC guidelines on my digital storytelling page. The report specifically states, “In particular, the CCUMC guidelines enjoy credibility to which they are not entitled.”

Reading our own District copyright policy, the multimedia use guidelines appear to come directly from the CCUMC guidelines. The report states repeatedly that the copyright law itself (from 1976, revised with Digital Millenium Copyright Act in 1998) is where education will find much wider and safer harbor for uses in the classroom.

So what is the big deal? Well, I for one want to do the right thing. We all want our students to do the right thing. The problem is, no one really knows what the right thing is when it comes to copyright and fair use. If we do not understand and model respect for intellectual property, how could our students possibly do so? That, coupled with the new digital generations of students growing up who have always had the Internet, spell big trouble for intellectual property. For a real world example, check out David Pogue’s short blog post, The Generational Divide in Copyright Morality. The creator side of me is very sensitive to being able to own and control distribution of things I create. But at the same time, I totally understand the need for free flow of ideas and information and the difference between the former and latter (note my Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license for this blog, at the bottom of the sidebar).

The report concludes simply by stating that a new “code of practice” needs to be put in place. Citing a similar code created by another group at American University, it appears this report is leading up to creating just such a code for copyright and fair use in the classroom. I hope they don’t take to long to get going on it – I for one would love some clear, usable, useful guidance in how we can best help learners while protecting the rights of creators.

As a footnote, check out the AWESOME 10 minute video, A Fair(y) Use Tale. Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles delivered through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless copyright terms.

Image citation:
Handheld heartbeats. “Confusion.” Flickr. 6 Jan. 2008 <>.