Copyright Questions

A few teachers I know were arguing, rather heatedly, with a student teacher about the copyright laws regarding what teachers can and cannot use in the classroom in the realm of music and movies.  The teachers were of the opinion that teachers can use any movie for educational purpose.  The student teacher was of the opinion that teachers could only get away with using short clips if they wanted to avoid copyright infringement.

This conversation comes up a lot.  I’m often on the fence, because whenever I have done my own personal research, I’ve been unable to come to a solid conclusion.  To me, it doesn’t seem clear and for every expert I find on one side of the issue, I’ll find another expert on the other side.  My only comparison that makes sense to me is this:  I would never feel that I could photocopy a novel and pass it out to students and assume this was legal.  Why would showing a movie be legal?

Unfortunately, when it comes to student projects, I have no idea what is right.  Can I assign students to make a mashup, a’la Glee, without running into copyright infringement?  Should I even be worrying about this?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I have yet to meet a teacher who knows the answer to this and that either means it is a hole in our education, or the law is not clear.  It’s only a problem if teachers are being prosecuted for it.

Unless you think teachers should be paying artists for using their work in the classroom?



  1. renaissanceguy said,

    September 28, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Unless it is an educational video that I or my school paid for, I never show full-length movies. I have shows clips to illustrate something, however. I can’t answer the legal question, but, like you, I think it is wrong to show an entire movie in class.

    I hate the word mashup. It’s a medley. That’s probably my age showing.

  2. G. Scott said,

    September 28, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    I feel rebellious about this: part of me doesn’t care a bit. I paid for the film; I’m not making any money off of the showing; I’m not taking credit for any of it; I’m not even selling the lesson plans that might involve the movie. I am using it for an educational purpose, and if the copyright owner wants to sue me for it, I say, “Bring it on — you want that kind of bad publicity?!”

    That’s the fourteen-year-old in me.

    The thirty-something in me knows I should know better, realizes I should have this copyright stuff (for lack of a better term) committed to memory (our librarian goes over it every August).

    In reality, I don’t worry about it that much because with films: almost like renaissanceguy, I almost never show a full-length movie. The only exceptions are Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Branagh’s Much Ado, and even then, I only show about 85% of the film.

    Still, the fourteen-year-old in me resurfaces from time to time…

  3. Scott Erb said,

    September 29, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Actually if you show it in class and do not make any money or open it up to the general public you can show a full length movie. I’ve even built a course around a film (Syriana). So no worries! The 14 year old in you is legal!

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