My 6th grader brought home some forms for his new spring classes this term, including a leadership class. His teacher is going to be showing the following full-length movies in class this semester:

  1. Mulan
  2. 101 Dalmations
  3. Bee Movie
  4. Toy Story 1
  5. Toy Story 2
  6. Horton Hears a Who
  7. Finding Nemo
  8. The Incredibles
  9. Madagascar
  10. Madagascar 2

Watching Movies in Class

Copyright and fair-use issues in schools are often poorly understood by educators. My most recent post about this, on 21 December 2009, was “Fair Use in Videos Using Pictures with Copyrighted Music.” In that post, I questioned the legality (under fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law) of using an entire copyrighted song for a web-posted slideshow video. In this post, I want to question the propriety and legality of using ten full-length movies in their entirety in a student leadership class taught in the United States, without explicit permission granted from the copyright holders. Use of full-length commercial DVDs definitely CAN qualify under fair use provisions of law in some cases, but TEN COMMERCIAL DVDs? I don’t think so.

The “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education,” from the Center for Social Media, is the best resource of which I’m aware that addresses these issues and gives practical, research and legal based advice for educators. The leadership course in which my son is enrolled is NOT a “media literacy” class, but the fair use principles discussed in this code of best practices still apply.

Principle one of the code addresses “Employing Copyrighted Material In Media Literacy Lessons.” Under the heading of “limitations” the code states:

Educators should choose material that is germane to the project or topic, using only what is necessary for the educational goal or purpose for which it is being made. In some cases, this will mean using a clip or excerpt; in other cases, the whole work is needed.

This resonates with my initial reaction to the note my son brought home today. It seems like a GREAT idea for a teacher to use excerpts and clips from movies to illustrate leadership principles and concepts, but it does NOT seem legit to show ten full length DVD movies in class to ostensibly achieve this same purpose.

Observing this planned copyright / fair use situation as a parent puts me in a bit of an awkward place. I want to continue and expand my involvement as a parent volunteer and resource to the educators at my son’s school, as we hope our younger children will also attend there and we plan to have a “long term relationship” with teachers and administrators there. I definitely don’t want to be primarily seen as a troublemaking parent who is giving a particular teacher or the school overall a “black eye” for mis-using media. I also want to ENCOURAGE more extensive uses of media to support learning when those uses are constructive, appropriate, and legal. My work for our Celebrate Oklahoma Voices project and Storychasers are cases in point.

At the same time, however, I think we have obligations as educators and even as citizens when we recognize aberrant and/or illegal behavior.

I think I’ll find a time to meet with my son’s teacher and discuss these concerns together face-to-face. I’m sure the teacher would be reluctant to revise the course outline at this point, and unlikely to do so based on my feedback/opinion, but I think I ought to raise these issues in person rather than just blog about them.

I’ll report back on what happens.

These proposed uses of commercially-copyrighted DVD movies to discuss “leadership principles” are certainly less egregious copyright violations than the typical “let’s watch a bunch of movies at school in class now that it’s the end of the term for entertainment” situations that are often common in our schools as well. I heard about lots of the latter cases on our morning carpool rides this year just before the winter holidays, but didn’t say anything / take any action then. It would be easier to just not say anything about this situation to my son’s teacher. I don’t think that would be the right thing to do, however.

I’m looking forward to Renee Hobbs‘ ISTE 2010 presentation, “Technology Education Leaders Learn about the Power of Fair Use” and forthcoming book, “Copyright Clarity: Fair Use and Digital Learning.” The “Copyright and Fair Use” materials provided by the Media Education Lab at Temple University (where Dr. Hobbs works) continues to be one of the best sources around for up to date, practical information about copyright issues for educators. Dr. Hobbs’ September 2008 presentation in Oklahoma, “Media Literacy as Literacy for the Information Age,” is one of the most popular audio podcasts I’ve ever published, with over 5000 downloads to date.

WWRHD? (What would Renee Hobbs Do?)

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15 Responses to Showing full length copyrighted movies for leadership class

  1. Ryan Collins says:

    I’d be concerned with the loss of teaching time. Showing 10 movies would be over half the remaining time we have until summer.

    But anyway, there are licenses available for school districts to show full length movies: Maybe they have one?

  2. Henry Thiele says:

    I suppose the school district could purchase this license ($500) a year to cover themselves from non-educational viewings of movies.

    I purchase this for each of my schools each year. I would rather pay for the licensing up-front because I assume that at some point during the year somebody (teacher, administrator, parent) will unknowingly break copyright law with a full length picture movie.

  3. JJ says:

    Our school pays for the licensing also, but discourages movies unless the learning objectives are clearly stated and tied to PASS skills or relevant curriculum. I can’t imaging a teacher giving up that many hours of instruction. That is the part that is unbelievable and much more questionable than copyright.

  4. Cheryl Oakes says:

    Leadership, my vote goes to Madagascar and the music. Take me to the leader!
    In school, I would rather give permission to let him play SCRATCH the whole time.
    This may not be very PC, but oh my goodness.


  5. paul shircliff says:

    I agree that this seems to violate copyright. At first thought the whole movie builds the story (otherwise it would be a shorter movie) so we need the whole movie. The teacher might argue that the movies are all educational and not entertainment because they are instructing on a certain topic. 10 movies?? Harken back to the day of storytelling and Fables to instruct our youth (even before my time). Now the fables & parables are embedded in entertainment videos. But is there a legal way to do this. (I keep hearing from students “Well it’s not REALLY illegal” ) Could they find the key elements in parts of the videos? Possibly “everyone” has seem them already so they just need to refresh & highlight with clips to prompt discussion? But what if someone has not seen the movie (I have not seen all of them).

    A completely separate issue is does the teacher have the technical capability to extract clips from a DVD. How long would this process take them?

  6. Sharon Elin says:

    Your concern is justified, both because of the legalities and the encroachment onto instructional time, as noted by Ryan Collins above. As to your worries about coming across as a copyright nazi or busybody, you could approach the issue along the lines of hoping to warn the teacher and school district against possible lawsuits. You would be doing them a favor to inform them — and your reason is to save them grief. Being a party pooper is the least of your worries.

    You might suggest that the teacher can play scenes from the DVD along with a lesson — scenes, not an entire movie in its entirety. DVD players have digital time counters and scene selecting menus. It’s possible and not that difficult to pull out pertinent scenes and actually, that technique would be far more titillating and fun for the students, who would be less likely to scrunch down into vegetation mode as soon as they hear that a movie was starting.

  7. Jason says:

    Ignoring the obvious copyright implication for a moment, I must strong disagree with the notion of showing so many films under the guise of teaching leadership. I see this as a dangerous trend in schools: show students videos instead of engaging them in a more meaningful way. Certainly one can look at each of these individual videos and perhaps strike a discussion, but a creative, smart professional shouldn’t need 90 minutes of cinemagic to inspire real discussion in 6th graders…

  8. Peter says:

    The fact that there are 10 movies is irrelevant as each would be a case on its own. More or less movies doesn’t matter – it just affects the number of possible unauthorized uses. What matters is the nature of use for each particular movie.

    IANAL, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it would break down.

  9. Ben Jones says:

    I certainly see your view on copyright but before I see that I see the following far greater concerning issues:
    1. Time spent learning leadership skills and practicing them in authentic scenario based learning versus watching holywood mania
    2. Eurocentric nature of the films
    3. All leaders in the videos are working towrds great things not everyday leadship
    4. Is the teacher a marketing machine for disney and pixar or a teaching and learning specialist (next point answers ths question)
    5. Most importantly a distinct lack of creativity in learning design

    Ben 🙂

  10. John Nash says:

    I think the copyright issues are the least of the problems with this curricular strategy. Is it really necessary to show all 10 films in their entirety to drive home the whatever points are being made by the teacher in their lesson plan (which we know little about)? Concurring with the comment of @Jason, I am concerned that this gives the teacher a pass on doing the yeoman’s work needed to, say, cull a set of appropriate clips, center discussions around them, and have students create new material or other media in the name of understanding leadership. Let’s combine fair use with competent lesson planning.

  11. LL says:

    Wow. After reading your entry, my first shocked reaction was, “Aren’t there any better examples of leadership than Disney/Pixar movies?” I get the whole idea about “meeting kids where they are”, but what about clips about Gandhi, or MLK or fill-in-the blank here??? Best practices my eye!

    Then on to the Copyright issue – you’re right it is tricky and hard to speak up. A leader in my school mentioned something to the effect that “. . . yeah, kids can go download images from Google.” And I said something about copyright and he replied, “Well it doesn’t matter if the kids are using it for education”. *sigh* This from someone who is supposed to be a tech leader in our district. I didn’t have the courage to speak up because this person is my superior. I wish you luck on _your_ “speaking up”!

  12. I would be more concerned with how long that was going to take- it can’t possibly be necessary to show 10 full length films, surely excerpts would do to illustrate leadership?

  13. Renee Hobbs says:

    Thanks to Wes and the many educators who have shared their comments on this fascinating case. Take a look at my blog post in response to this topic at:

  14. Wesley Fryer says:

    Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to respond and write such a thorough post, Dr. Hobbs! I encourage everyone to read that post, as well as her post, “Non-Optimal Uses of of Video in the Classroom” also linked in that response.

    This has provided me not only with a better factual / legal basis to approach my son’s teachers with my concerns (legally she’s OK, but instructionally there are better approaches) but also with a parent volunteer idea: I could assist her from a technical standpoint in selecting and using clips of these videos in class. How ironic that my own knowledge and skills in being able to rip DVDs and extract segments would be a technical violation of the DMCA, unless the exception Dr. Hobbs petitioned the US Copyright Office for last year would be approved…

  15. […] latest post, he debates what to do about his child’s teacher’s decision to show ten full-length feature films over the course of a semester.  Wes raises questions of copyright and fair use, and I highly recommend you head over his way and […]

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