It’s truly ironic that the digital technology shift, while making diverse content more available, has also made it harder for teachers to help students respond critically to mass media, popular culture  and digital media.

What’s Needed: Copyright Education

Now truth be told, educators are not well-educated about copyright law.  So we don’t offer meaningful learning experiences to students about copyright.  We either ignore the topic or we offer them industry propaganda.  Both of these approaches cannot continue. In Pennsylvania, we have begun this work teaching library media specialists and technology integration specialists about copyright and fair use, with support from the Classrooms for the Future program at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. When teachers find out the story is not all “no, no, no”, we’ve found that educators are very receptive to this work.  Teachers deeply respect the rights of copyright owners and want to be lawful.  But they want for themselves and their students the right to exercise their legal rights to use copyrighted materials under the doctrine of fair use.

The DMCA exemption we seek will provide the perfect “teachable moment” for exploring copyright with students. If people can lawfully copy excerpts of copyrighted DVD material, we can help students distinguish between pirating and fair use. Copyright law offers strong protection to both owners and users and an exemption will help educators and students strengthen their respect for their rights and responsibilities under copyright law.

Bizarre Alternatives

At the rulemaking, the media industry lawyers began their argument by saying that of course, educators are entitled to make fair use of DVD content.  But instead of enabling educators and students to bypass CSS for educational purposes, they propose bizarre alternatives to bypassing CSS, like screen capture–this means videotaping a TV set and then using those digital files.

At the Copyright Office rulemaking on May 6, the industry lawyers even showed an educational video on how to do this with a $900 videocamera, a lot of special cords, a flat screen TV, and a perfectly darkened room.  But I’ve tried it myself, and it’s not a practical strategy.  K-12 classroom teachers, who are in the classroom with students for 5 hours per day, generally don’t have time for such shenanigans. Many will also not have the money, time, or skill–these are real barriers, too.

Teachers and students need to be able to use digital film in just the same ways we now use and quote from digital news articles, books, web sites, and other resources, easily and fluidly, at the touch of a keystroke.  We live in a world where content comes to us seamlessly from our computers. Educators need to use this content effectively to build students’ critical thinking, analysis, communication, and problem-solving skills for life in the 21st century.

Teachers are law-abiding professionals–and we want our students to be law-abiding.  Right now, teachers are not bypassing CSS technology because it’s not lawful to do so. But right now, the DMCA law is having an adverse effect on the permitted fair use of copyrighted materials.

My fear is that, without this exemption, media literacy education will fail to thrive.  Another generation of young people will not get the opportunity to think critically about the messages Hollywood sends our students about history, the present time, and the future.  Students need to analyze how Hollywood films address real-world topics like elections, teen pregnancy, crime and law enforcement, violence, technology, and romantic love. To unlock the “reel” potential of film in education, we need this exemption.
Renee Hobbs is a Professor of Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she founded the Media Education Lab (www.mediaeducationlab.com). She can be contacted via eMail at renee.hobbs@temple.edu.