Clipping Our Wings: Fair Use and Communication Research

Researchers recognize how lack of understanding of fair use impairs their work

Communication scholars are beginning to recognize the problem with their lack of knowledge about copyright and fair use, just as the media literacy education community has done over the past several years. Patricia Aufderheide, Bill Herman, Chris Boulton and Eszter Hargittai helped develop research that documents how members of the International Communication Association (ICA) are thwarted by their inability to use  or access copyrighted material. They have produced a report, Clipping our Own Wings: Copyright and Creativity in Communication Research, available at the Center for Social Media. This survey of communication scholars’ practices reveals that copyright ignorance and misunderstanding hamper distribution of finished work. Lack of knowledge and confidence in applying fair use leads communication researchers simply to avoid certain kinds of research altogether.

For example, nearly 50% of survey respondents express a lack of confidence about their copyright knowledge in relation to their research. Nearly a third avoided research subjects or questions and a full fifth abandoned research already under way because of copyright concerns. In addition, many ICA members have faced resistance from publishers, editors, and university administrators when seeking to include copyrighted works in their research. Scholars are sometimes forced to seek copyright holders’ permission to discuss or criticize copyrighted works. Such permission seeking puts copyright holders in a position to exercise veto power over the publication of research, especially research that deals with contemporary or popular media.

For many faculty, the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education can be of use in clarifying how copyright and fair use applies to the practices of teaching and learning, especially in the creation of curriculum materials and when students use copyrighted materials in their own creative and academic work. Members of the the communication research community should continue to learn about copyright and fair use and advocate for their rights under the law.