Fair(ish) Use

When I first read the description of this requirement, I immediately thought of something I do in the classroom that has always led me to wonder, “Am I breaking some sort of copyright law?” The short answer is no. My question was answered thanks to The Cost of Copyright Confusion.

So what am I doing? Well, I teach 7th-grade language arts and toward the end of the school year, we celebrate our final unit with a science fiction unit. At the end of the unit, we have a three-day event I call the Science Fiction Film Festival. Enter potential copyright infringement …

Due to the time limitations of a middle school schedule (45-minute classes), I edit the science fiction films to fit a 45-minute window. To accomplish this feat, I’ve rented DVDs from the Anchorage Public Library, downloaded them to my computer using the app Handbrake, upload it to iMovie and edit the movie for length and language. I export the movie to a mp4 file and keep it on my desktop. The movie is played for all of my students to watch via smartboard. I explain to them the movie has been edited. Last school year, while watching Back to the Future Part II, a student asked me, “Mr. Klott? Isn’t this violating some sort of copyright law?” I said no, but I didn’t know why. Now I do.

From Page 10 of The Cost of Copyright Confusion:

“A professor described a policy at his college where the provost issued an ultimatum: only DVDs owned by the college can be used in the classroom, and under no circumstances can faculty use VHS tapes, off-air broadcasts, or DVDs from other sources. In one high school, the technology specialist refuses to let teachers use school equipment to screen videos unless they sign statements that they (and not the school administration) are legally liable for copyright violation.”

From Page 12 of The Cost of Copyright Confusion:

“Among educators who recognize the importance of fair use, a significant number believe that fair use protects the use of copyrighted materials in the classroom only when the purpose for their use explicitly emphasizes critical analysis. “I distinguish between the use of texts for analysis and deconstruction and the use of texts for the purpose of illustration, information or entertainment,” explains one media literacy educator. “Analysis is protected as part of fair use.”

I believe “critical analysis” is the key word here. In my classroom, we use these science fiction films as well as other films (and video clips from the internet) so we can analyze its educational elements. Using these films and other copyright resources allows my students to understand other cultures, other viewpoints, and real life situations that I could not otherwise bring into the classroom. Educators call this realia. Bringing realia into the classroom is never as easy as it would seem. But thanks to the fair use doctrine, teachers like me can feel comfortable manipulating copywritten resources and bringing them into the classroom for students to analyze as long as we are not distributing the resource or making money from it.

I have determined the use of these science fiction films is fair in the context of the Four Factors of fair use. After filling out a fair use checklist, I had only one mark in the “opposing fair use” column. I scored five marks in the “favoring fair use” column.

FairUseChecklist
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