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Section 2. The Cost of Copyright Confusion

Learning Objectives

Students will understand:

  • how  lack of knowledge about copyright and fair use negatively affect teaching and learning
  • why the many different "educational use guidelines" do not have the force of law and how they interfere with educators' genuine understanding of fair use


Video: The Cost of Copyright Confusion

PDF of the Cost of Copyright Confusion

Copies of the reading selection


PDF Attached Reading (A)

A summary and critique of the educational use guidelines in relation to the doctrine of fair use

Reading (B):  The Cost of Copyright Confusion

This report explains the current state of understanding about copyright and fair use among educators - and the misinformation sometimes passed on to students.

Reading (C): Crews, K.D. (2001). The law of fair use and the illusion of fair-use guidelines. The Ohio State Law Journal, 62, 602-700. Available at:

Educational use guidelines - which are negotiated agreements between media companies and educational groups-- have come to be misinterpreted as law, creating problems for educators and students alike. 

Reading (C):  McGeveran, W. & Fisher, W.W. (2006, August). The digital learning challenge: Obstacles to educational uses of copyrighted material in the digital age. Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2006-09. Available at:

This white paper provides a detailed overview of the challenges of faced by digital learning and education which relate to copyright and other legal issues.

Lesson Plan

Engage interest. Show the video, "The Cost of Copyright Confusion."  Discuss: How did all this confusion get started?  What factors contribute to the confusion?

Explore online. One source of confusion is the many different interpretations of copyright and fair use that are available online. Demonstrate how easy it is to find many different (and sometimes conflicting) educational use guidelines by conducting an Internet search on the term "copyright." Some sites to present may include:

Baruch College (uses a subway map):

Hall Davidson (uses a chart):

Provide context. Explain that each of these websites is an interpretation of fair use that has been developed by the authors of the site. They are confusing-and they are not the law. They are based on guidelines that were private negotiations between media companies and educational groups. They were intended to provide a "safe harbor" to illustrate obviously clear examples of fair use.  But in recent years, they have been interpreted as the "ceiling" - the maximum amount of use required to claim fair use under the law.  

Read and discuss. Read "Educational Use Guidelines FAQ" and "The Cost of Copyright Confusion." To assess students' reading comprehension, invite students to (1) explain the advantages and disadvantages of the educational use guidelines. Students should be able to explain (2) why the educational use guidelines have contributed to copyright confusion. 

Critical thinking. Ask students to (1) offer inferences about why business leaders sought to have specific, detailed rules as presented in various educational use guidelines; and (2) why some educational leaders sought to have specific, detailed rules.


MEDIA PRODUCTION/ TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION ACTIVITY: Students watch short videos about how copyright can interfere with creativity and the spread of knowledge and contribute their comments on the videos using Voice Thread, a social media website for conversations about visual media.

Preview how to use VoiceThread.  First, demonstrate how to use Voice Thread by playing the One-Minute demonstration available online at:

Demonstrate the process of making a comment. Then, watch a bit of the documentary, "Eyes on the Fair Use Prize," available at 

Demonstrate how to make a text, voice (and video) comment. You can use the microphone on your computer or use a phone to "call-in" a comment.

Students comment. Encourage students to make two comments on each video: one fact-based comment in which they can share what they are learning about copyright and fair use, and one opinion-based comment in which they can share their feelings, personal experiences and reflections.

Reflect and share. When students have all completed their work, encourage them to review the comments made by their peers and demonstrate the project to their family members and friends. As a new form of social media, Voice Thread users re-purpose images as a stimulus to community conversation. Point out that people everywhere need to gain "copyright clarity" to understand their rights as creators and users of copyrighted materials in order to fully exercise their rights under the law.