Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning

A while back I read a wonderful book called Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning written by Renee Hobbs. The book is sold on Amazon in paperback, as well as an ebook.

Copyright Clarity by Renee Hobbs

With schools worldwide realizing the importance of teaching students to be digitally literate, there is a pressing need for teachers and students alike to understand the laws which limit, as well as support, them in using digital text and media in their presentation of lessons and projects. The four components of media literacy as defined by the Aspen Institute in 1993 are “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms.”1 This means that teachers and students will probably, at some point in their interaction with the “messages,” copy them.

Hobbs strives to clarify the rights of educators to use copyrighted material for educational purposes under the protection of the Fair Use Doctrine. She says, “In order to ensure that copyright law did not become a form of private censorship, the copyright law of 1976 includes section 107, the doctrine of fair use. Fair use is an exemption – a type of “user right” that limits the rights of the copyright holder, allowing users to copies without permission or payment under certain conditions.”

I was very surprised to learn that the guidelines for educators’ use of copyrighted material, so often verbally shared by teachers, are not laws at all, but, in fact, guidelines created by the media industry (publishers of text, music, and video) who have an interest in limiting the free use of their products. It is, in fact, our right to use their products, as long as we make a case by case justification of our purpose.

Section 107: The Fair use Doctrine of the Copyright Law of 1976 states:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

If someone who makes use of copyrighted material can justify its use based on the above factors, then they can feel confident that they haven’t violated copyright laws. It is my hope that understanding this will have a liberating effect on those educators who have previously been reluctant to make use of the rich multimedia resources available to educators of today.

I urge you to read Hobbs’ book for a more complete understanding of how the Fair Use Doctrine protects our rights as educators.

1 Aufderheide, P., & Firestone, C. (1993). Media Literacy: National leadership conference. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute. (p. 6).

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