Fair Use Question of the Month: Showcasing Media Literacy Assignments Outside the Classroom

by Anuj Gupta

Image by US Department of Education/Flickr

Dear CMSI,

I teach media literacy in my 8th grade English class, and one of my assignments is to find examples of different media saying the same thing or carrying the same message. The students produce a multi-media work, and some of them are quite impressive. We’d like to showcase them at the school fair and on the school website, but the principal says that we’d be infringing copyright, since it’s outside the classroom.



Dear Monique,

Thank you for your question, and congratulations on an innovative assignment. Your principal is voicing a common concern; we think it comes from the fact that specifically educational exemptions are quite broad, for the face-to-face classroom environment, and you lose those exemptions once you step outside the classroom. But other rights still apply, most importantly fair use–both for you and for your students.

But how to apply fair use? Fortunately, your fellow teachers have worked together to identify their most common issues when using copyrighted materials for media literacy, and their Code Of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy can give you some guidance.

First, it reinforces your good judgment that your students can draw from the copyrighted world to assemble their analysis. Category Four encourages teachers “to enable learners to incorporate, modify and re-present existing media objects in their own classroom work,” subject to appropriate limitations that are spelled out in the Code. Further, Category Five explains how to make judgments about circulating their work–not only within a school-wide environment but to the general public, as a website would do. It also discusses the limitations you’ll want to consider.

Once you have found out if you’re meeting limitations, you’ll know whether you and your students are in conformity with fair use, and you’ll be able to help your principal make a good decision. Having the Code with you will allow you to provide her with the reassurance that not just you but the community of media literacy teachers has articulated this consensus, with no resistance from rights holders since its creation in 2007.




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