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Nurturing Creative Minds: Teaching Students the Importance of Fair Use

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Nurturing Creative Minds: Teaching Students the Importance of Fair Use

Written by: Sarah Ackerman

May 29, 2024

In the ever-changing landscape of today’s digital age, where information is readily available and creativity knows no bounds, understanding the concept of fair use is more vital than ever. Today’s youth tend to believe and use anything they see online without any understanding of the consequences of their actions. As educators, we are responsible for equipping our students with not only the knowledge of how to use technology effectively but also the ability to understand the ethical and legal considerations in their creative endeavors. This leads me to explain why teaching the concept of fair use is incredibly valuable to our youth.

“As educators, we are responsible for equipping our students with not only the knowledge of how to use technology effectively but also the ability to understand the ethical and legal considerations in their creative endeavors.”

Fair use, embedded within copyright law, is a doctrine that allows the limited use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owner. It serves as a safeguard for freedom of expression, innovation, education, and the progress of society as a whole. However, understanding the law surrounding fair use can be intricate, often leading to misconceptions or even disregard among young creators.

Child sitting at a desk, using a laptop.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images on Unsplash+

In the classroom, we have the unique opportunity to teach the significance of fair use through engaging and interactive methods:

  1. Contextual Understanding: Start by providing real-world examples that resonate with students, such as transformative works in literature, music, or visual arts. Analyze instances where fair use played a pivotal role in the creation of iconic pieces, fostering discussion on the balance between protection and freedom.
  2. Legal Literacy: Break down the four factors of fair use—purpose, nature, amount, and effect—into digestible chunks. Encourage critical thinking by presenting hypothetical scenarios and guiding students to evaluate the applicability of fair use principles.
  3. Ethical Reflection: Prompt students to reflect on the ethical dimensions of using copyrighted material. Encourage them to consider the perspectives of both creators and consumers, emphasizing the importance of attribution, integrity, and respect for intellectual property.
  4. Creative Projects: Empower students to become active participants in their learning journey through hands-on projects. Task them with creating multimedia presentations, remixes, or original artworks while adhering to fair use guidelines. Provide constructive feedback to foster a culture of responsible creativity.

So how do we teach an engaging, memorable fair use unit when the topic can be somewhat boring (let’s be honest)? Check out my unit plan below:

Day 1-2 – Discuss the vocabulary related to the topic. I like to create guided notes or even a scavenger hunt that we complete as a class. The discussion quickly picks up as the lesson evolves.

Day 3 – We look at real-life examples including some from DJ Earworm. If you aren’t aware of DJ Earworm, Google him. He is a DJ who seamlessly mashes up popular songs for a particular time. We watch a couple of his videos (preview them first because we all know how revealing some music artists’ music videos can be) and then break into small groups to discuss whether they believe his work to be original or a violation of copyright. 

Day 4 – We begin calculating fair use of text, music, and other media. I created a document to practice this concept. This always ends with students shocked at how much material can actually be used without the artist’s permission.

Day 5-10 – I introduce them to the Fair Use Mashup Video project. Over the next few days, students will choose a theme, artists, etc, and create a mashup of their own using the knowledge they now have. The works I’ve seen students create range from movie trailers, to funny videos, music videos, famous speeches, and so much more. The creativity, ownership, and overall engagement in this project is overwhelming. They come into class wanting to work and show off their creation to others, which inadvertently teaches others.

“Equipping students with the understanding of the importance of fair use is not just about legal compliance; it’s about cultivating a culture of creativity, critical thinking, and digital citizenship.”

Equipping students with the understanding of the importance of fair use is not just about legal compliance; it’s about cultivating a culture of creativity, critical thinking, and digital citizenship. By imparting an understanding of fair use principles and providing opportunities for practical application, we’ve played a crucial role in preparing our students to navigate the complex landscape of digital content with integrity and confidence. As students embark on their creative journeys, let us empower them to not only create great work but also to do so responsibly and ethically, respecting the rights of others while pushing the boundaries of innovation.

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Contributor

  • Sarah Ackerman

    After graduating from Western Kentucky University in 2001, Sarah worked in marketing and sales with large tech companies for over a decade. While she thoroughly enjoyed her business career, her heart continually pulled her towards becoming a teacher. After receiving her Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the University of Indianapolis, Sarah began her teaching career. She has taught Business and Innovations at Speedway Junior High and High School and can honestly say that she has loved every minute!

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