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Fair Use Question of the Month: Is it Fair Use Out Of the Classroom?


Dear Center for Social Media:

I’m a video production professor, and my students do a great little assignment where they re-edit a scene from a movie. Sometimes they’re very funny. We’d like to show them in the university-wide film festival, and send the students home at the end of the year with a DVD compilation of them. I’m even thinking they’d make a nice promotional item for our program. Even though I’ve been careful to make the students use screen-capture so they don’t have to break encryption on commercial DVDs, the dean is leery of letting anyone else see this work. She’s been supportive of the assignment, but she says it has to stay in the classroom. Is that true?


Your assignment sounds very interesting--congratulations! We hope you also check out the fair use teaching tools we’ve just created, and if you’re interested, add to them. (Write us at socialmedia@american.edu). Your students are re-using copyrighted material for a different and new purpose, and they are taking out of the original only the segment that is useful to them. I’m also imagining they might interpolate other material into the edit as well, some of which also might be copyrighted and also would be repurposed. So they will be transforming the material and have used only an appropriate amount, putting them in a fair use zone. If your students stay within the safe harbor zone of fair use--by consulting and employing the Documentary Filmmakers’ Code of Best Practices in Fair Use and the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video--their work can not only travel throughout the university but the world, to YouTube and beyond. If for any reason they are challenged--for instance, in a random sweep of YouTube by ContentID--they can respond confidently with their fair use logic, and they will be fine if they stay within that safe harbor area defined by the codes. Best of all, you no longer have to discourage your students from breaking encryption on DVDs, if this is student work and/or they make their works strictly for non-commercial purposes. The new DMCA exemptions allow film/media studies students to break encryption to do their class assignments, and it also exempts all non-commercial video production.

--The Center for Social Media