Fair-Use Help for Internet on Its Way

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As access to digital content expands, along with its potential to enhance classroom lessons, a group of media experts has drafted guidelines to help teachers and students grasp the legal issues they say have unnecessarily restricted the use of the vast online resources for educational purposes.

“The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education,” set for release this week, provides a framework for using copyright materials in classroom activities and student projects and lays out what applications are restricted or permitted by law.

As more and more teachers and students seek to tap into technology-based information, share that information by downloading or sharing content, or mix it in podcasts and other user-created content, there is an increasing need for accurate information about the fair use of outside materials.

“Most educators are so unaware of how copyright and fair use apply to their work that when they find out that, yes, you can use copyrighted materials for teaching and learning, ... there is a huge sense of relief,” said Renee Hobbs, the founder of the Media Education Lab at Temple University in Philadelphia, who helped craft the guidelines. “This is going to really help to clear away the copyright confusion and enable educators to be better advocates for the use of digital media to promote critical thinking and communication skills in the classroom.”

Right and Wrong

The guide includes video and online resources showing how to teach specific topics on copyright and fair-use rules at various grade levels.

The Center for Social Media at American University was scheduled to release the guide Nov. 11. It was written with input by 150 educators and representatives of education organizations, and reviewed by a committee of legal scholars and media and technology experts.

The guidelines address common applications of copyright materials, such as creating and sharing curriculum materials, as well as student uses of protected materials. It also explains the legal limitations in doing so.

Last year, a group of media-literacy experts released a study showing widespread misunderstanding over copyright law among teachers and school administrators. It suggested that that confusion was hampering instruction and limiting the use of digital content at a time when such resources were showing great promise for transforming lessons and engaging students.

Expanding teachers’ understanding of copyright laws is also essential for ensuring that students are learning the right and wrong ways to use and share resources, some experts say.

“Every school in the country is supposed to be teaching teachers or requiring their teachers to go through some kind of training about copyright compliance,” but many aren’t, said Frank Baker, a Columbia, S.C.-based media-literacy consultant. “Just look at the proliferation of cell phones and miniaturized digital equipment, and the uploading and downloading, legal and illegal, by young people today.”

“It’s rampant,” he said, “but they’re not learning about how to use them.”

Vol. 28, Issue 12, Page 12

Published in Print: November 12, 2008, as Fair-Use Help For Internet On Its Way
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