Fair use best practices

This is from last week, but via NCTE comes the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, a document complemented by similar efforts like their best practices for online video. Great sound bites, like “Media literacy education can flourish only with a robust understanding of fair use” and “Fair use is flexible. It is not uncertain and it is not unreliable.” Strong supporting resources, too; see Empowering Our Users With Fair Use from ACRLog for details.

I’m pleased with this effort, which is sorely needed and which I will quickly put to good use in my courses (with other materials from CSM I’ve used in the past). For me, most of the content isn’t specific to media literacy education, but is widely applicable. I teach fair use in every course–no matter the content–because I believe strongly in it and find the current status of fair use education miserable. I welcome not only the specific content on fair use, but this kind of best practices document, which provides a broad introduction and simultaneously debunks some misguided lore. In particular, the clarifications on “400 words or less” and similar nonsense are very welcome. I have three criticisms, only one major:

  1. I wish the authors had put more effort into making the blogged version of the document an actual blog post, as opposed to something just cut and pasted: lighting up the links, adding section links, using proper markup, etc. I suspect most folks will link to this blog post, and it’s too bad the authors of this document didn’t give their good work the best presentation.
  2. The shout-out to Creative Commons is welcomed, but how about going a bit further and licensing the document with CC-BY or a similar license? I’d also like to see stronger encouragement of student use of Creative Commons, since that not only allows the kind of attention to IP matters rightly encouraged by this document, but is practical and expedient.
  3. Under point four: “students may use copyrighted music for a variety of purposes, but cannot rely on fair use when their goal is simply to establish a mood or convey an emotional tone, or when they employ popular songs simply to exploit their appeal and popularity.” These two uses of “simply” bother me. Mood and emotion aren’t simple goals, but essential to any professionally produced media. Same with the use of popular music; soundtracks for films use it for specific rhetorical goals. I can hear Ulmer saying now, “Mood and celebrity? That’s the stuff of electracy!” Indeed, I think this last caution needs to be rewritten to make clear which uses are likely to be unacceptable. It seems to me the line between incidental or non-essential use should be more clearly drawn.

Just some constructive criticism. I don’t mean to kick the chair out from an otherwise strong and welcome document.

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