Since September of 2007 we have been contributing to the development of The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education (PDF).
Our most substantial contribution to the effort has been Media Literacy through Production-based Media Education, a video we produced to help frame the issues surrounding fair use in the context of elementary school video production.
The Code is the result of a coordinated effort by the media literacy community, supported by The Media Education Lab of Temple University, the Center for Social Media in the School of Communication at American University, and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property in American University’s Washington College of Law to simplify the legalities of using copyrighted materials in an academic setting.
The document will clarify how fair use applies to the most common situations where media literacy educators make use of copyrighted materials in their work, and our video will be presented along with it to help promote the confident and legal use of copyrighted material in educational settings.
One of three videos produced for the report, our video will demonstrate legal uses of copyrighted materials in the context of a 4th-grade media education video production. We show a class of Title I 4th-grade students searching for, analyzing and acquiring copyrighted images or music, then “repurposing” those works to create unique videos. This production process dislodges the works from their original purpose and transforms them into the necessary building blocks of a rich critical thinking activity.
The “transformativeness” of the use of a copyrighted work is often the key legal criteria by which “fair use” is determined. A legal educational use must add value to the copyrighted material and employ it for a purpose different from that for which it originally was intended. Transformativeness can involve modifying the material, putting material in a new context, or both.
Our video shows copyrighted works being transformed through curriculum-based video production. Each image or song our students experiment with, included or deleted, changes their understanding of how media messages are constructed and repurposes copyrighted works into critical classroom resources for project-based learning. The availability of these works creates opportunities for educators to discuss with students how one image vs. an alternative image or one song vs. the absence of music might be interpreted by their audience. This process does not depend on any particular image or song, but the availability of a variety of relevant images and songs to analyze and choose from. Student experimentation with these media creates teachable moments for educators to contextualize authorial intention and demonstrate how meaning is created through the decision-making process of media producers. The inclusion of any copyrighted works in student productions “repurposes” them to serve students’ attempt at communicating using 21st Century media, and their understanding of how all media, new and traditional, communicate.
The abundance of searchable, downloadable images on the Internet, the accessibility of digital music, and the ease with which kids can manipulate and create with them using free, kid-friendly video editing software have given teachers low-maintenance opportunities to set up students to experiment with digital productions in the classroom. These productions are a way for educators to connect digital media that students are often comfortable and confident with to the traditional objectives of the classroom, and provide opportunities to connect the critical thinking skills of traditional literacy to media messages students are surrounded by outside of school. Media education and the availability of digital production resources in the classroom are relatively young in their development. As educators are introduced to what is possible and legal, the potential for creative approaches to teaching and learning utilizing these resources are endless.
Our video will help educators understand their right to utilize copyrighted works in the education of 21st Century students with confidence that they are not committing criminal acts! Through our association with this important report, we hope to play a part in encouraging more talented educators to come out of the shadows to share their lesson plans and success stories on websites like ours to grow and strengthen the field of media education.