Fair use confusion threatens media literacy

e-school news ran this interesting article on the confusion in the American education system concerning “fair use” provisions of their copyright laws.

In an age when digital images and recordings to supplement and enhance education are abounding, unnecessary restrictions and a lack of understanding about copyright law are comprising the goal of using such technology in the classroom, says a new report. After interviewing educators, educational media producers and media-literacy organizations, the report’s researchers conclude that educators have no shared understanding of what constitutes fair-use practices, and that teachers face conflicting information about their rights, and their students’ rights, to use copyrighted works.

A few old wounds jumped off the page at me:
1. American legislation isn’t Canadian legislation -“fair-use” is markedly different from our own “fair dealing” exemptions, and “fair use” gives teachers more latitude to use materials than does “fair dealing.” But our teachers don’t often realize that there is a difference.

2. If American educators are confused about “fair use,” as the article contends, then imagine how confused Canadian educators are about “fair dealing?”

3. My understanding (could be flawed or dated) is that we have an agreement with several other countries that states that any materials are protected by the laws of the member country in which they are used. If that’s the case, then our material falls under broader “fair use” guidelines when it moves south across the 49th parallel, and American material falls under “fair dealing” when it moves north. If I’m right, this means that American educators would have wider access to our materials than our own educators would in Canada. Follow me?

And here’s the biggest irony: all of this squabbling is happening in a digital world where there are no meaningful borders between countries and jurisdictions. Can you think of a better argument for creative commons licenses and open source approaches to all materials?

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