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Celebrating Fair Use Week

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This is a guest post by Rachel Bridgwater, Reference Librarian at the PCC Cascade Campus.

Fair Use Week Image

It is a nice coincidence that I wrap up a month of copyright discussions in the TLCs during Fair Use Week, February 23-27. These conversations have tended to focus on fair use and for good reason!  Fair use is a flexible and powerful part of the copyright law and one that makes possible so much of what we do as teachers and learners.  Unfortunately, though, it is often poorly understood and, in some cases, even feared.  Fair Use Week is an opportunity for all of us who benefit from fair use (hint: that’s ALL of us!) to learn about and celebrate it!

What is fair use?

Justice Ginsburg has described fair use as a “First Amendment safeguard” and, indeed, fair use is the part of the copyright law that brings the law into harmony with the First Amendment.  Fair use recognizes that copyright, without this powerful and dynamic exception, can easily be used as a tool to silence criticism, quiet debate, curb potentially unflattering research and teaching.  It is for this reason that fair use prescribes no set percentage of a work that would

be fair or unfair but, instead, asks the user to evaluate their proposed use taking four factors into account.  Fair use is subjective, messy, and inherently a “gray area” but it has to be.  Fair use’s flexibility and open-endedness is a feature, not a bug.

Why should we care?

Faced with the inherent “case-by-case” nature of fair use, combined with the uncertainty that we all face when trying to determine whether a particular use is fair or not, it can be tempting to throw up our hands and either assume that all educational uses are fair (they aren’t) or that fair use is necessarily “too risky” to use (it isn’t).  To my mind, knowing about fair use and exercising fair use rights deliberately and confidently, provides an opportunity to model ethical information use to students.  I have found that bringing copyright and fair use into discussions about plagiarism can both enliven those conversations and help students view plagiarism within that broader context of information ethics.

Want to learn more about fair use?

Here are some links to get started:

PCC Library’s Copyright Guide – Fair Use

Fair Use Fundamentals

Libraries are Champions for Academic Freedom and Balanced Copyright

Please do feel free to be in touch with me, either directly or through the email address, to discuss your concerns, questions, or insights about fair use!  I won’t be able to tell you whether a particular use is fair or not but I always love talking fair use issues through and helping instructors organize their thinking about fair use!




About Heather Mayer

Part-Time History Instructor and Coordinator of the Rock Creek Teaching Learning Center. more »

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