Section 1. Understanding Copyright


Learning Objectives

Students will understand:

  • that copyright law is designed to promote creativity and the growth of knowledge by considering both the rights of owners and the rights of users
  • how fair use ensures that copyright law does not limit First Amendment rights
  • the ways in which copyright law has expanded to protect owners over  a period of time
  • that the flexibility of fair use enables it to be relevant and useful to many different kinds of creative communities 


Song: "What's Copyright?"   

PDF of Copyright Song Lyric


PDF Attached Reading (A):  Understanding Copyright

This reading provides basic concepts about the relationship between copyright, fair use and free speech.

Reading (B):  Loren, L.P. (2008). The purpose of copyright. Open Spaces Quarterly, 2(1). Available at:

The core purpose of copyright is to promote creativity and the spread of knowledge.

Reading (C): Tushnet, R. (2004, December). Copy this essay: How fair use doctrine harms free speech and how copying serves it. Yale Law Journal, 14(3), 535-589. Available at:

Copying serves valuable First Amendment purposes, both for audiences and for speakers, for whom copying often serves interests in self-expression, persuasion, and participation.

Lesson Plan:  Understanding Copyright

Engage interest. Find out what students already know about copyright. Ask students to share with partners their answers to the question, "What is the purpose of copyright?"

Listen and discuss. Listen to the "What's Copyright?" song.  The lyric sheet is attached as a PDF file. Ask students to share their thoughts about copyright with their partners. Then replay the song. Ask students how their perception of copyright has changed.

Check reading comprehension. After reading the selected article, invite students to: (1) explain the concept of fair use in their own words; (2) explain why the article claims that without fair use, copyright law would limit people's First Amendment rights.

Critical thinking. In responding to the reading, encourage students to: (1) offer inferences about why copyright law has expanded in recent years; and (2) explain why computer industry leaders believe that a robust interpretation of fair use will create new business opportunities.  

RESEARCH AND WRITING ACTIVITY: After listening to the song and discussing the reading, have students work with a partner to complete the worksheet , Section 1, Understanding Copyright.  Then invite each student to select one of the questions s/he generated and explore answers using library and online search strategies. For homework, students share what they learned by writing a short paragraph for a wiki or blog or composing an email to the instructor.

PRODUCTION ACTIVITY. Encourage students to download the "What's Copyright?" song and insert their own examples of their creative uses of copyrighted materials. Students can create short video clips to create a version of the song with their own relevant visual examples.