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QUESTION OF THE MONTH: Students Using Copyrighted Music in School Projects


Dear CSM:

I’m a high school teacher with a question about Fair Use for media literacy education. Can students use entire songs from popular artists in video or Power Point presentations if those videos or Power Point presentations are for a class project that will not be distributed outside of the school/classroom?

Thanks for your help,



Dear Patti:

First off, I’d like to direct your attention to the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. The Code was designed by educators (with legal advice!) to help educators make these determinations for themselves, because Fair Use is always case-by-case, and context is everything. The specific characteristics of the student project, purpose, and the use of copyrighted materials are all components of the context and situation that need to be considered.

Principle 4 in the Code states that students can use copyrighted materials in their own academic and creative work on media literacy, incorporating, modifying and re-presenting existing media objects into their own classroom work.

But the limitations on the principle acknowledge that use of copyrighted work must be "transformative," and should not be a substitute for the original. Students still need to be able to demonstrate how their use of the copyrighted material transforms it or repurposes it. Students cannot rely on Fair Use when their goal is simply to exploit the popularity of a copyrighted work in order to use it for its original purpose. Also, students should not use copyrighted material in order to avoid doing their own creative work.

Further, all of the Fair Use principles are subject to a "rule of proportionality." So even if the use of the song in a student’s video or Power Point can be considered transformative, Fair Use rights only extend to the amount of a copyrighted work that’s needed to accomplish the purpose of the work. In some cases, that could be the entire song, but it could also be a single line of the song, but that much use would require a strong justification.

--The Center for Social Media

For answers to more common Media Literacy Fair Use questions, check out our FAQ page.