Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Copyright Caution

The holiday season is about to kick into high gear, and so is the energy level of students. Many schools, particularly at the elementary level, choose to schedule movie screenings as a fun group activity.

Unfortunately, this practice is illegal, in most instances.

Copyright and fair use regulations can be difficult to decipher. Tools like the Fair Use Evaluator recommend that users "collect, organize & archive the information you might need to support a fair use evaluation" while cautioning that "Only a court of law can definitively rule on whether a use is fair or unfair. This tool does not assume or predict a court outcome."

When it comes to movies, however, the rules are quite specific:
"the showing of copyrighted motion pictures (videos and DVD's) outside of a classroom educational setting (including such uses as after school programs, student rewards, rainy days, lunch hour movies, summer camps, clubs, assemblies, staffing emergencies and idle periods between state testing) constitutes copyright infringement." -Showing Movies at School

There are some exceptions:
Under the "Educational Exemption" copyrighted entertainment movies may be shown in a school without copyright permission only if all criteria are met:
  • A teacher or instructor is present
  • The showing takes place in a classroom setting with only the enrolled students attending
  • The movie is used as an essential part of the core, current curriculum being taught. (The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall required course study and syllabus.)
  • The movie being used is a legitimate copy, not taped from a legitimate copy or taped from TV
-Movie Licensing USA

Schools districts could, of course, obtain a Public Performance Site License or a
One-Time License (as do public libraries) and eliminate any question of illegality.

I was recently contacted by a fellow teacher/librarian who was frustrated by administrators' response to the sharing of this information. They blatantly ignored it. My professional experience has been similar.

Teacher/librarians don't want to be perceived as "copyright cops." But we do feel that teaching and modeling good digital citizenship is part of our role as educators.

How can we preach responsible use to students when adults in authority fail to exhibit ethical behavior?

Now you know the law. Follow it.

"At The Movies" by Clover_1


Cathy Jo Nelson said...

Thanks for this timely reminder! I am finding the abuse continues even in high school. As a teacher told me, any educator worth a grain of salt can find a way to make it fair use. So I say to her and all educators, then DO IT.

diane said...


I agree that fair use gives a lot of flexibility. But where movies are concerned, the law is quite specific. Classroom use, in conjunction with an instructional unit, is acceptable. Showing Nanny Mcphee to an entire elementary population, as one local school did (without a license) is not. Even where fair use seems applicable, documentation of the reasoning process behind such a claim is vital.

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