Teaching Copyright and Fair Use using Remix and Mashup

I teach a digital media and web course at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School that emphasizes the students role as media creators.  In the course, I introduce many different media production tools like Photoshop, Imovie, and Garageband as well as media distribution or promotion technologies like vimeo.com, twitter and blogs.

My goal is to promote a deep understanding of copyright law as it pertains to media producers. First I want my students to think of themselves as media producers. I then want them to be aware of the ownership they have on their work. Finally, we move into sharing work, remixing work, and legally using other work in new original work. Modern digital media editing software makes this much easier than it used to be.

While teaching the students to be media creators, I spend a lot of time talking about Copyright and Fair Use.  These are complicated topics and I try to cover the concepts from different angles.  I’ve been experimenting recently with the idea of teaching remix and mashup as another way of thinking of Copyright and Fair Use.  With this approach, I have the student try to incorporate works by other artists into their own work.

The trick is then to determine and explain to the class how they used the work.  Where did the original work come from?  Was it commented on?  Did they make a parody of the original work?  Was it transformed?  Did they give the orignal artist credit?  Do you compete in the same market space as the original work?  These are all questions that help determine whether or not the work is a fair use of the original.

The concept is quite complicated, and while I don’t think any of the students were able to successfully remix or mashup original copyright work in a fair use way, I do think they developed an understanding of what that is and how to do it. They also developed an understanding of using work that is legal to use, such as work in the public domain or work released under a creative commons license.

Any teacher doing a media project in class should be teaching the basics of copyright and fair use, just as we teach plagiarism when we assign research papers. Hopefully this presentation helps extend that thinking.  I think that many teachers already think of doing things like this with Collage, and even research papers. I am trying to extend the thinking to different types of media production. I want students to be aware of the sources of the media they use and learn to attribute creators correctly.

This is an example of a Video Mashup using a variety of sources created and obtained from archive.org

Behrris Mashup Project from frogmatter on Vimeo.