Fair Use

Today in my Writing in a Digital Age class, we’ll be talking about fair use in honor of Digital Learning Day. I’ve been reading Renee Hobbs’s Copyright Clarity and am borrowing heavily from a proposed workshop for educators. Since my students are more concerned with their own work, however, I’m using just the first few activities she describes, then trying to complicate our understanding of fair use by viewing a TED talk by Lawrence Lessig.

Here’s a breakdown of my lesson today. I anticipate we’ll move far beyond what I’ve outlined here, however, since my students this semester are engaged with and thoughtful about technology.


“What is the purpose of copyright?” (Hobbs, Copyright Clarity 98)

Pair-share: discuss your answer to the question

  • “How many included reference to owners’ rights, making money, or profit?” (Hobbs, Copyright Clarity 98)
  • “How many included references to creativity or the spread of knowledge?” (Hobbs, Copyright Clarity 98)

Purpose of copyright: “to promote creativity, innovation, and the spread of knowledge” (Hobbs, Copyright Clarity 98 summarizing Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, written in 1787.)

Copyright Law of 1976 defines Fair Use: “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research.”

What did you learn from viewing Renee Hobbs’ slide share? (Their homework assignment was to view the slide share, take notes, and be ready to share what they feel is significant about it)


Define transformativeness: “Does the new work merely supersede the objects of the original creation, or instead does it add something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message?” (Hobbs, Copyright Clarity 46).

Use this question to consider your use of other sources in your own work.

Creative Commons

Watch Lawrence Lessig, “Laws that Choke Creativity

  • How does Lessig complicate ideas about copyright?
  • What is Creative Commons?
  • How can we be informed and careful users of digital content?

Further Resources for Teachers

Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education


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