A Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education


Educators often use (or want to use) copyrighted materials from mass media and popular culture in building students’ critical thinking and communication skills. For example, I often have students analyze a particular website or a television ad to identify bias and source credibility. Or, we watch popular movies depicting high-tech surveillance (Enemy of the State, Eagle Eye, etc), hoping to unpack both the technology itself, and how such films might desensitize our general concerns with such privacy invasions.

Yet, despite the rise of digital media tools for learning and sharing, fear and confusion over copyright and fair use have kept teachers and students from using this valuable material, including portions of films, TV coverage, photos, songs, articles, and audio, in the classroom.

Luckily, American University’s Center for Social Media has released a handbook to help clear the air: “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education”. (This is the same group who brought us the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video”.)

The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education outlines five principles, each with limitations:

Educators can, under some circumstances:

    1. Make copies of newspaper articles, TV shows, and other copyrighted works, and use them and keep them for educational use.
    2. Create curriculum materials and scholarship with copyrighted materials embedded.
    3. Share, sell and distribute curriculum materials with copyrighted materials embedded.

Learners can, under some circumstances:

    4. Use copyrighted works in creating new material
    5. Distribute their works digitally if they meet the transformativeness standard.

The full document can be downloaded here.

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