At the annual University Film and Video Association conference this August, professors from across the country gathered on the well-appointed campus of Champlain College to discuss, among other things, fair use in film education.
At a panel on out-of-class film screenings for film-course assignments, I launched a discussion of digital viewing. At some universities, film profs are permitted to show entire films on their electronic course platforms; at others, there still is not even any access to streamed video. Most common was use of film clips within passworded course sites. Such uses are made employing the doctrine of fair use. However, there is uncertainty and confusion about the interpretation of fair use in the digital classroom. The Association of Research Libraries’ recent issue brief on permissibility of video streaming to non-physical classroom locations offers significant comfort and solid legal arguments for those who wish their libraries to help them teach better with out-of-class digital viewings.
Many faculty found the new DMCA exemptions liberating. These exemptions, among other things, make it legal for all professors and for film/media studies students to break encryption on commercial DVDs to employ their fair use rights. They expect that their students are going to be able to make more creative work.
Teaching about Fair Use
At a panel on teaching about fair use, Giovanna Chesler started her presentation with an image of Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow. “This is the image of copyright that most of my production students come into my class with,” she said. She showed how class exercises on how to employ fair use rights stimulate students to produce thoughtful, creative work. “These remixes are typically the best work in the class,” she said. Michelle Glaros walked participants through class assignments in an introductory course for art students. Grounding her discussion in the philosophy and economics of the concept of public goods, she introduces her students to the concept of balance in copyright. After they grasp what is at stake for society, they then test their ability to assess fair use. Last year, Glaros worked with CSM Graduate Fellow Claire Darby to provide online feedback. This year, Glaros announced that she was willing to serve as a mentor to others, having gained confidence from her training this year.
CSM's New Fair Use Teaching Modules
Finally, Claire Darby debuted CSM’s new teaching modules for fair use. These include two slideshow lectures with professor how-to notes, classroom assignments, discussion scenarios, and even a grading rubric. These tools support the Center’s existing teaching resources, including academic research reports and videos. The modules are in Beta; the Center eagerly awaits feedback on them. As well, the Center hopes that teachers will be sending in their own successes and assignments to share with others.
Do It Yourself
“But we require that students make work that goes into the world ready for distribution,” said Jan Krawitz. “When they employ fair use, they have to pay money to get a lawyer’s letter saying they made the right choice.” Entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson, who was also in the audience, quickly reassured Krawitz that the students will only need such a letter when they acquire errors and omissions insurance. In the meantime, Krawitz herself can and should approve or revise their use, guided by the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use and the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. These codes spell out where the safe harbor of fair use is, in easy-to-apply principles and guidelines. “I don’t know what more we can do to assure you that you can do this,” Donaldson said. Donaldson made this point again in his own workshop, where he discussed the DMCA exemptions in which he played a key role. In the exemption petition process, Donaldson represented the International Documentary Association, helping documentary filmmakers win an exemption.