Skip to main content

Pre-Conference Workshop Presentation, Copyright and Fair Use

Fair Use and Academic Freedom:  Asserting Fair Use Rights in Communication

Time:  Thursday, May 21, 13:00 – 17:00

This preconference is a working session of about 40 communication scholars who will brainstorm research to analyze the problems of access to copyrighted material in the academic field of communication today, and to develop a proposal for addressing those problems further within our professional context. We expect that participants will look upon this event as the beginning of a project. The format will be that of a workshop; there will be no paper presentations. We will discuss past success of best-practices codes as a model; identify copyright problems faced by communication scholars; plan further research to survey the field about these problems; and establish a timeline and strategy to develop a code of best practices in fair use for communication scholars. To apply to participate, register for the preconference on the ICA site and send a one-page document including: a short biography (one paragraph); and description (one to two paragraphs) of your interest and/or research on this topic, suitable for posting/ publication either in email text or Word attachment with “ICA preconference” in the subject heading to Patricia Aufderheide at

Scholars and creators have increasingly found copyright restrictions to impose burdens harsh enough to affect the range, quality and type of work that we undertake. The recent rise of digital making and sharing practices, in combination with the growth of broadband distribution, has made this problem increasingly acute. In this process, the ideology of authorship--a reverence for individual authorship that is a legacy of 19th-century Romanticism and that carefully excludes the social aspects of creativity--has been sedulously invoked by the publishers, distributors and content companies with which scholars and creators must interact. Marginalized, by contrast, has been the underlying goal of copyright, to promote and reward the creation of culture. Similarly marginalized has been the recognition of art or expression not merely as finished objects but as practice, to borrow an insight from Raymond Williams, one of the founding thinkers of the field of communication.  Communication scholars have special needs to access copyrighted material in order to both analyze it and to create new work, as well as to teach effectively and support student creative and scholarly projects. Circulation of this work, not only in nonprofit environments but in the corporate world of distribution, is critical to its evolution and to growth of the field. Often neither the authors nor their publishers and distributors are well-informed about copyright and their options under the law. At the same time that scholars and creators have encountered obstacles to doing their work well because of copyright, they have also collectively found ways to assert their rights and develop tools to address the problem. For instance, as has been demonstrated dramatically and publicly since 2005, with the launch of the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, the copyright doctrine of fair use is a vital and useable tool to fairly and legally employ copyrighted material in new academic and creative work. In the wake of its success in changing industry practice, other creator groups, including media literacy teachers and film scholars, have publicly established their interpretations of fair use, through their professional associations. Communication scholars could build upon this example and extend the effort in the interest of their research and teaching.

The preconference is organized by Chris Boulton, Ph.D. student in Communication at the U of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Patricia Aufderheide, professor and director of the Center for Social Media in the School of Communication at American U.

Sponsored by ICA Divisions Communication and Technology; Communication, Law and Policy; Philosophy of Communication; Political Communication; Popular
Communication; and Visual Communication Studies.  Partly supported by the Ford Foundation, through the Future of Public Media Project at the Center for Social Media at American University, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, through the Media Education Lab at Temple University.