October 23, 2007 | By Richard Esguerra

Report Shows that "Copyright Confusion" Obstructs Media Literacy Efforts

A recently completed investigation into copyright's effect on media literacy education resulted in the following criticism: lack of knowledge and poor policies inhibit the teaching of critical thinking and communication skills.

The report, published by the American University Center for Social Media (in partnership with the Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, and the Media Education Lab of Temple University) is titled "The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy." It is the product of extensive interviews conducted throughout 2007, unearthing the real-world challenges faced by teachers, librarians, and others involved in bringing real media examples into the classroom.

As expressed in the report, the goal of teaching media literacy is to impart "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms." Common sense dictates that media literacy instruction should include the fair use-protected presentation of articles, photographs, news footage, movie clips, and songs. However, the report demonstrates that teachers are steered away from common sense by maximalist copyright propaganda, and that widespread, institutional fear of infringement inhibits teachers seeking to leverage technology and media to achieve educational goals.

The following hypothetical situation is drawn from experiences gleaned from the interviews, and typifies a teacher's considerations when confronting potential copyright issues:

George Abell's high school students analyze persuasion techniques used in advertising. But they don't analyze real ads--Abell is too afraid he might run afoul of copyright restrictions. Instead, he spends time in the summer creating dummy ads for them to analyze. They're not as good, as interesting, or as persuasive. But he's confident he's within the school's guidelines.

Appropriately, the report recommends the development of a comprehensive code of practice that can provide clarity on copyright rules and fair use exceptions, helping educators freely and lawfully advance media literacy in the classroom. With technology enabling an environment of media saturation, media literacy provides a vital bridge between culture and citizenship. As the report points out, maximalist copyright myths are hampering progress on forging this important link.

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