Ithaca College professor Cyndy Scheibe wanted to use cover images from Newsweek magazine to create teaching materials. The magazine told her she could, but only if she paid photographers for the photos and asked the people in the pictures for their permission.
It proved a daunting task. Not only were the fees sizable, but the cover subject was Osama bin Laden – no one knew where to find him.
Stories like Scheibe’s are the backbone of a new study by BTMM professor Renee Hobbs, who worked with professors at American University in Washington, D.C., to examine how copyright law affects the quality of an instructor’s teaching.
Released in September, the findings showed many educators did not know how the law – specifically, the fair use doctrine – permitted them to use copyrighted material in lessons. As a result, the educators were less innovative in teaching and avoided using technology in their curricula.
“What was surprising was how few teachers understood the concept of fair use,” Hobbs said. “Even college professors could not easily describe fair use or how it protected them.”
Incorporated into the Copyright Act of 1976, the fair use doctrine provides four guidelines for educators using copyrighted material in the classroom. Together, the rules provide a base for determining whether or not use of copyright material is protected. Violations can result in hefty fines and lawsuits.
Hobbs said interviewees most frequently questioned whether they could legally integrate photocopied news articles, Web downloads or music recordings into their lessons.
“Almost always, the first question out of teachers’ mouths is, ‘Is it okay for me to use that stuff?'” she said.
She said many confused educators rely on their own research for understanding of copyright law. Perform a quick Google search about fair use and “you’ll probably see a lot of junk,” she said.
To further complicate matters, the study revealed that different schools operate under a wide range of interpretations.
“The danger is that when universities do establish policies, they’re sometimes more restrictive than they should be,” Hobbs said. “That’s because they’re written by lawyers. But educators themselves should participate in a dialogue about what constitutes fair use.”
Temple education professor Ruby Peters said she considers fair use when she sends her students online to access portions of textbooks and research articles.
“If you are in the business of research or media and absolutely in teaching, you should be well aware of it. It’s all over the place,” she said.
Journalism instructor Rick Popp takes the rules into consideration when using photographs, ads and film clips in his visual communication class.
“You can use copyrighted material for educational purposes, but you have to be careful about it,” he said.
Penelope Myers, head of access services at Paley Library, said that Temple professors can safely share copyrighted materials through the library’s course reserves.
“We pay the licensing fees, which are usually only about $35,” Myers said.
Additionally, the library posts a copyright warning for faculty on the library’s Web site and abides by fair use rules when making course materials available.
“We would never put a whole book on reserve,” she said.
Ultimately, as Hobbs’ study concludes, the key to avoiding copyright confusion for educators is awareness.
“People need to exercise fair use rights,” Hobbs said. “And you can’t exercise it unless you know it exists.”
Benae Mosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.