“Fair Use” provisions of U.S. copyright law as they pertain the creation and sharing of multimedia by students and teachers in schools present important topics which are sometimes still misunderstood by educators at different levels. In this post, I’m going to share an excellent “fair use” example of a student and teacher created remix song and video, based on the Disney song “In the Jungle” from The Lion King, at an Oklahoma school. I’ll also share a recent news headline from a California school where parents and school administrators did NOT correctly understand and follow U.S. copyright law, and were sent a bill by Disney as a result.

In summer 2019, half the teachers in our Casady School Lower Division (elementary, grades 1-4) attended the Project Zero Conference at Harvard University. In addition to learning a variety of “visible thinking routines” and strategies to use with students across content areas and grade levels, teachers were also inspired to develop creative, multi-disciplinary projects with colleagues and students which challenge students to make “durable, sticky connections” to their learning likely to be remembered for a long time. One of our second grade teachers, Lisa Jordan, decided to partner up with our amazing elementary music teacher, Ashlynn Dickenson, to re-write the lyrics of the Disney song, “In the Jungle,” to align with the second grade social studies unit students study in the fall on “Communities.” The project grew to involve all the second grade teachers, some of the other “specials” teachers including computer teacher Heather Vick, and eventually other members of our staff even including our security officer, John Day, who is featured in a dance segment of the final video beside our lower and middle division library! The final video, which is 2.5 minutes long, features our second graders performing the song in their music room, interspersed with video clips of students dancing and acting out scenes for the song from different locations around our school lake and campus.

This video project is a good example of a “fair use” remix of a copyrighted work, protected by “fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law,” because it:

  1. Features original lyrics written by our teachers
  2. Includes an original performance of the song by our own second grade students
  3. Was created and shared for an educational purpose, as part of a school social studies unit on “Communities”
  4. Is shared non-commercially, where the school is not making any money from the performance or sharing of this creative work
  5. Is not denying Disney, the owners of the copyright to the original song arrangement “In the Jungle,” from any musical royalties or other performance rights income

Before creating and recording this video, and eventually sharing it to YouTube, teachers and staff at our school had some excellent conversations about “what constitutes fair use” when it comes to creating an original remixed song and video like this. Could we share the final video with parents and others on a public YouTube channel, or did we have to share it privately to limit redistribution? Would this invite a “YouTube copyright strike” for the teacher who posted the video to a school YouTube channel? Would Disney get upset and threaten to sue our school? If this video risked a YouTube copyright strike, should that affect whether teachers posted it to a newly created teacher YouTube channel, instead of an existing school communications department YouTube channel?

Helping answer these important questions about copyright and fair use is an essential role for school technology integration specialists, educational technology leaders, instructional coaches, and library media specialists. Fortunately, members of our school support staff were able to work with our teachers to answer their questions and ultimately recommend the creation and public sharing of this “Communities” video. It really is precious, and as been received with enthusiasm by our parent community. As you have similar discussions with teachers and staff at your own school or in professional development settings, I invite you to share this example and the rationale we applied to decide this clearly IS “protected fair use” of a copyrighted work. The copyright chapter of my 2011 book, “Playing With Media: Simple Ideas for Powerful Sharing,” is another resource which can help inform educators about the law and situations regarding teacher or student created multimedia and whether the specific context of that use and sharing constitutes “fair use.”

This past week, on February 3, 2020, a headline in the San Francisco Gate newspaper highlighted an unfortunate and preventable misunderstanding of copyright law as it applies to schools in an elementary in Berkeley, California. The article, “Disney sends $250 bill to Berkeley elementary school for screening ‘The Lion King’,” explains how a Parent Teacher Organization held a fundraiser in which they asked parents and students for donations, as they screened the 2019 Disney remake of “The Lion King” without paying a licensing fee. Disney’s licensing page clearly explains:

All requests to screen our films in their entirety in a non-theatrical setting at churches, clubs, public schools (pre-schools and kindergarten through twelfth grade), camps, libraries, business and service organizations, parks, art museums, film societies, and similar organization are handled by our authorized agent, Swank Motion Pictures. Please be advised that Swank handles licensing for public schools (K-12), both title-by-title and for blanket licensing on a yearly basis:

How do I show a Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios Touchstone Pictures or Hollywood Pictures film to my group or organization? (Disney Studio Licensing, Retrieved 9 Feb 2020)

Liability concerns and fears can encourage school officials to take drastic measures to curtail and “shut down” teacher and student creativity when it comes to multimedia projects and shared videos specifically. By helping teachers and school administrators become better informed about copyright and fair use provisions of U.S. law, hopefully those kinds of “creativity chilling” decisions can be avoided. Dr. Renee Hobbs’ (@reneehobbs) book, “Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning,” is among many excellent resources shared on her Media Education Lab copyright resource page, “Help students understand how copyright and fair use supports digital learning.” Although they are 11 years old now from 2009, Larry Ferlazzo’s (@Larryferlazzo) page, “The Best Resources To Learn About Copyright Issues” is still great. My 2009 ITSC presentation, “Copyright for Educators,” is my most popular Slideshare.com slideshow to date.

For more discussion of the recent Berkeley, California copyright case involving screening a Disney movie at school without prior licensing, check out last week’s episode of “The EdTech Situation Room” (Episode 164) in which Jason Neiffer (@techsavvyteach) and I analyzed and explain some of the lessons learned for teachers and school administrators from that situation.

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