Copyright, Fair Use, & Pedagogical Practices

“When K-12 educators focus exclusively on the idea of “doing your own work,” it actually undercuts the development of important skills that are necessary for collaboration and teamwork in contemporary society” (Hobbs, 2011, p. 44).

Let that sink in. A little longer. 

I spent the last week surrounded by literature on copyright law and fair use. Within this topic I did not expect to find a pedagogical epiphany, but that’s what happened. As I read about copyright and fair use, I was lost in thoughts about how I had used materials in the classroom, how I had asked children to incorporate media in their projects, and whether I was ever guilty of closing my door and not sharing the products of my or my students’ thinking out of fear of copyright infringement (Hobbs, 2011). Secret: I had. Many times. I was guilty of becoming overwhelmed and under informed about copyright law and fair use. I taught my students to cite sources, but also to only rely on open source media. I was also guilty of believing that citing and avoiding copyright infringement were nearly the same – they’re not (Hobbs, 2011; Aufderheide, 2012). But I still had yet to consider how the educational practices prevalent in many of the classrooms I’ve been in actually work against the protection of fair use.

When we, as educators, ask (or tell!) children to do their own work, we are implying that solo-authored creation is of highest value. This ties directly into the misconceptions which harm our ability to practice fair use of media. If the idea that a single author creates a new and novel piece of work, and that the author did not pull from previous works of literature, art, music, or other mediums, then we are denying the truth of the creative process while also discounting the power of collaboration, remixing, and collective intelligence. Just as language and meaning is shaped over use and time, media representations take on new meaning with new interpretation and use (Aufderheide, 2012). Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens (2015) is an excellent example of how remix and new interpretation creates new meaning. I, for one, enjoyed The Force Awakens because of its familiarity and nostalgia. It allowed me to make intertextual connections while being entertained with new characters and settings. This wasn’t one mind creating this interpretation, it was the work of many.

To revisit copyright and fair use, yes – these need to be intentionally and systematically taught to educators so they can work to protect the rights of both authors and users. But our instructional practices also need to be examined to see how else we may be inadvertently perpetuating misinterpretation and misuse of the rights afforded to authors and users by copyright law and fair use.


Aufderheide, P. (2012). Creativity copyright and authorship. In D. Gerstner & C. Chirs (Eds.), Media Authorship. New York: Routledge.

Ferguson, K. (2015). Everything is a remix: The force awakens [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from

Hobbs, R. (2011) Copyright clarity: How fair use supports digital learning. Thousand Oaks: Corwin/Sage.