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The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The fundamental goals of media literacy education -- to cultivate critical thinking about media and its role in culture and society and to strengthen creative communication skills -- are compromised by unnecessary copyright restrictions and lack of understanding about copyright law, as interviews with dozens of teachers and makers of media literacy curriculum materials showed.
In K-12, higher education, and after-school programs and workshops, teachers face conflicting information about their rights, and their students' rights, to quote copyrighted material. They also confront complex, restrictive copyright policies in their own institutions. As a result, teachers use less effective teaching techniques, teach and transmit erroneous copyright information, fail to share innovative instructional approaches, and do not take advantage of new digital platforms.
This is not only unfortunate but unnecessary, since copyright law permits a wide range of uses of copyrighted material without permission or payment. Educational exemptions sit within a far broader landscape of fair use. However, educators today have no shared understanding of what constitutes acceptable fair use practices.
Media literacy educators can address this problem with the same techniques they use in their work: increasing shared knowledge. Like other creative communities, such as documentary filmmakers, media literacy educators from K-12 to university level can articulate their own shared understandings of appropriate fair use in a code of practice. This code can educate not only themselves and their colleagues, but their students and administrators. Finally, their code can guide and instruct other educators, in formal and informal settings, who use copyrighted material in their teaching for a wide range of educational purposes and goals.

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