“The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education.” Center for Social Media, School of Communication, American University. 2008.

  • This document is meant to define precisely what counts as fair use under copyright doctrine.  “Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances – especially when the cultural or social benefits of the use are predominant” (1).  This document speaks to 5 populations: K-12 education, higher ed, nonprofit organizations that offer programs for children/youth, and adult education.
  • Media literacy defined: “the capacity to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms” (2).    Some core principles of media literacy education:

o    All media messages are constructed

o    Each medium has different characteristics and strengths and a unique language of construction

o    Media messages are produced for particular purposes

o    All media messages contain embedded values and POV

o    People use their individual skills, beliefs, and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages

o    Media and media messages can influence beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, and the democratic process (3)

  • The authors recognize the importance of fair use of media in student productions when they note, “transformative uses of copyright materials in media literacy education can flourish only with a robust understanding of fair use” (4)[1. Get a copy of The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy –].
  • The code recognizes the importance of copying for the creation of new culture: “we as a society give limited property rights to creators to encourage them to produce culture; at the same time, we give other creators the chance to use that same copyrighted material, without permission or payment, in some circumstances.  Without the second half of the bargain, we would all lose important new cultural work” (5).
  • Two questions judges ask about fair use:

o    Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?

o    Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use? (6)

  • The Code recognizes that the way that copyright and fair use is typically framed in educator education is overreaching and overstated.  Educators are taught that fair use is inflexible and unforgiving when the opposite is true.
  • Principles:

o    Employing copyrighted material in media literacy lessons: you are allowed and you should provide citation/attribution.

o    Employing copyrighted material in preparing curriculum materials: same as before.

o    Sharing media literacy curriculum materials: again, very similar.  Only use pertinent and relevant media examples.  Also, check your institutional licensing agreements – your universities agreement with publishers might complicate your own.

o    Student use of copyrighted materials in their own academic and creative work:  of course they can use them; however, copyrighted materials shouldn’t be a substitute for creative work.  Also, cite the material and be sure that the student understands the rhetorical importance of their repurposing.

o    Developing audiences for student work:  Be smart here – when choosing a forum for student work be sure that ethical attribution is practiced.  Also be sure to return to the previous principle: is the work repurposed for something new or simply used without critical reflection?

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