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Fair Use Question of the Month: Remix Assignments in the Classroom

Poetry and Fair UseIn this month's fair use question a poetry teacher asks whether a "mash-up" assignment will invite legal trouble.

Dear Center For Social Media:

I’m a poet and English literature teacher at public high school in Baltimore.  I’ve devised a project that asks students to pair pieces of verse from their favorite regional poets and lyricists with sections of advertising from iconic Baltimore businesses to create a snap shot of local culture.  My student’s are fascinated by all things “mash-up” and thus enthusiasm for the assignment has been overwhelming.  Unfortunately, I’m beginning to worry that I might be inviting a lawsuit.  Is what I’m doing legal? 


Dear Beverly:

What a great idea for a project. You're wise to think about copyright, at a time when your students often want to take their homework far beyond the classroom, to YouTube and beyond. And you're in luck; you've got a tool to help you and your students make good copyright decisions: the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry , authored by poets for poets (many of whom are also educators).  Section two, “New Works ‘Remixed’ from Other Material,” looks at allusion or pastiche” -- techniques (like remixes and mashups) that have always been “an important part of poetic practice.”  Section two also discusses “imaginative” and “intellectual transformation” of both literary and non-literary copyrighted material. 

Section three of the code deals specifically with the fair use in the classroom – an environment that copyright law gives great flexibility to in utilizing copyrighted material for teaching.