High-school teachers and college professors receive next to no training on copyright law and fair-use doctrine, a new report argues, and their students are suffering as a result.
“The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy,” released by American University’s Center for Social Media, is based on interviews that university researchers conducted with more than 60 media-literacy educators. Those interviews paint a fairly grim portrait of teachers, unsure about the specifics of fair-use doctrine, cowed into avoiding perfectly valid uses of copyrighted material.
“Too many teachers fear they will misinterpret fair use or are simply unaware of its expansive nature,” write the study’s authors, including Peter A. Jaszi, a professor of law who has testified before Congress about fair-use doctrine. Because they are afraid of violating copyright, “teachers use less effective teaching techniques, teach and transmit erroneous copyright information, fail to share innovative instructional approaches, and do not take advantage of new digital platforms.”
To clear up the copyright confusion, media-literacy teachers must codify a set of best practices for fair use, according to the report: “It is time for media-literacy education to move past outworn ‘guidelines’ and dubious and even unhelpful ‘rules of thumb.’” What shape should a best-practices report take? (The report is available online as a PDF.) —Brock Read