What Media Literacy Educators Need to Know About Fair Use…

Some time ago, this blog ran an interview with Pat Aufderheide (Center for Social Media) and Peter Jaszi (The Program on Informational Justice and Intellectual Property) about the work they have been doing developing Codes of Best Practices for Fair Use for a variety of different communities, including documentary producers and the DIY media world.

Last week, the team, working with long time media literacy veteran upstart Renee Hobbes Renee Hobbs (The Media Education Lab), released a new report, The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. It is a follow up to an earlier report which described “The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy.” The report comes with the endorsement of many key Media Literacy organizations including Action Coalition for Media Education, Media Education Foundation, National Association for Media Literacy Education, National Council for Teachers of English, and the Visual Communications Studies Division of the International Communications Association.

I’ve been watching this initiative develop over time, sharing the team’s belief that copyright law (and confusion about fair use) represents one of the biggest obstacles for the development of meaningful resources for supporting media literacy education. We hosted a brainstorm with media educators at the last Media in Transition conference. I am particularly pleased to see that the report moves beyond the issue of what individual teachers do in their own classroom to address how and when we might share curricular materials with each other, an issue I’ve been pushing hard in my conversations with the authors.

In our own work, we regularly encounter teachers who are anxious about introducing any copyrighted works in their classroom and I’ve had at least one project shut down by university attorneys who were convinced we were exceeding our Fair Use rights in quoting from films and other existing media texts. We have been struggling through the work we are doing on New Media Literacies to get enough room to be able to show short segments from the media we are discussing. To date, we’ve been developing our materials using the best practices statement for documentary filmmakers and we are excited to see further clarification of what these principles mean in the specific context of media literacy education. As you will see if you look at the materials we are producing, we rely on Creative Commons content where-ever possible and where it is not possible, we are creating very strong markers of attribution. I know that many media educators read this blog, so I wanted to flag this new report for you.

Thanks to the work of Hobbes, Aufderheide, and Jaszi, many of us can walk into our classrooms with greater confidence that what we are doing falls squarely within current understandings of intellectual property law.


  1. Renee Hobbs says:

    Thanks for pointing out that the Code emphasizes that people can create share, and sell curriculum materials that make use of copyrighted materials, with some limitations. This is essential for media literacy to thrive.

    Educators may also enjoy using our “Schoolhouse Rock” style music videos to teach about copyright and fair use. We’ll be releasing two of these in the next week at mediaeducationlab.com. You will love them, I’m sure!

    On a personal note, we’re both starting the Golden Years this year, Henry. As for misspelling my name and calling me a “long time media literacy veteran,” I’m just going to have to be a tiger in going after you about it!

    I’m serious– as a notorious misspeller, you can call me what you like, but please, no more references to my AGE!


  2. Thank you Henry for your generous and insightful post. You are as usual too modest in it. The project is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; it was your strong support that made it clear to the MacArthur Foundation project officers–who strongly support digital learning–that digital learning needs fair use to develop in a healthy way. You were also instrumental in helping shape the Center’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video (also available at centerforsocialmedia.org/fairuse), which was created in a collaboration between legal scholars and cultural studies scholars. It’s been great to see the fair use discussion move widely in cultural studies, thanks in part to your ability to let people see the connections.