Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How Was Shrek Original?

“Do I have to cite all the pictures I used in this collage, Mrs. Essenburg?” And what about the video a student made analyzing how people who are different are treated in popular movies--insightful commentary, but largely made of copyrighted visuals? Then there’s my husband trying to remove from his article all references to specific books taught in English classes because the publisher informed him he had to have a full citation for any title mentioned. 
Copyright issues have always caused me a vague uneasiness--which I’ve always dealt with by crossing my fingers, making my most educated guess, and hoping for the best, aware that there’s some clause about educational use somewhere. So this summer I decided to invest in Renee Hobbs’s Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning, aiming to absolve my low-level background guilt and become authoritative when answering students’ and colleagues’ questions. The book would probably be dull, but the purported “clarity” gained might be worth it. At least it would be a handy desk reference. 
Pleasant surprise: The writing is engaging, and the book is less of an exhaustive reference with all the answers and more of a practical lesson for educators in critical thinking, US law, and citizenship. Hobbs argues that US copyright law is intended to promote the flourishing of  society by balancing the rights of producers (copyright) and users (fair use doctrine), and that educators must not be cowed by guidelines devised by publishing, entertainment, and music industries into giving up rights of use “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research” (18).
She refrains from giving cut-and-dried answers, though, insisting educators must understand the intent and provisions of the law (which is intentionally vague to allow for application to a wide variety of changing contexts), and must be able to make reasoned judgments about fair use. 
The two big criteria for fair use are “transformativeness” and market impact: does the use creatively or critically add meaning or change the purpose of the information, or is it just large-scale reproduction to avoid paying for the work? Hobbs gives many examples from classrooms and case law to explain and expand on these criteria, and if you want to know more, you can check out The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, which Hobbs helped to develop, and which contains many of the same ideas. All helpful things to know so I can confidently continue and increase students’ use of technology in my classroom to foster critical thinking, creativity, learning, and collaboration.
So, okay, this blog wasn’t exactly about Shrek, and I don’t know how many permissions or licenses the producers applied for, but the movie did transform and add meaning to every allusion, and far from replacing the originals and reducing the market, it motivated me to get on iTunes and buy “All Star.”  

Hobbs, Renee. Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin; a joint publication with the National Council of Teachers of English, 2010. Print.

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