Lesson Plan Industry Sector
Arts, Media & Entertainment

Lesson Plan Originally Created By: James D Brown

Copyright, Fair Use, and Digital Ethics

Part of Unit: Pre-Production

Lesson Plan Overview / Details

This lesson informs students about their rights and responsibilities as consumers and producers of digital media. Students will learn about copyright law and fair use doctrine through class discussion and then apply their understanding in selecting media components for their media arts projects. Students will also explore ethical issues in the creation of digital media products and demonstrate their understanding against various scenarios.

Lesson Time

50 Minutes
Fair Use
50 Minutes
Fair Use Project
100 Minutes
Ethics & Release Project
50 Minutes


California's 2008 CTE Standards

California Academic Content Standards (Reinforced)

Objectives and Goals

  • Students will learn and understand how to adhere to copyright and intellectual property laws and regulations in the creation of original works
  • Students will learn and understand the doctrine of "fair use" in the selection of media assets for projects
  • Students will become aware of ethical issues in the development of digital media products

Activities in this Lesson

  • Explain

    The creative process sometimes requires that a creator borrow materials that are made by others. However, using someone else's materials in the pursuit of your own creativity might also violate the copyrights of the original maker. The Web is full of "mash ups" or the mixing together media derived from the creative works of others.

    New Vocabulary

    Mashup: A work (video, song, etc.) created by blending two or more original works. To the extent that such works are "transformative" of original content, they may find protection from copyright claims under the "fair use" doctrine of copyright law.  

    Originality: A work is original if it is new or novel, distinguishing it from reproductions, clones, forgeries, or derivative work. An original work is one not received from others nor one copied based on the work of others. A derivative work is a creation that includes major, copyright-protected elements of an original, previously created first work.


    Producer: Someone who manufactures or creates something.


    To start students off on the discussion of copyright and fair use, play the Original Double Rainbow ( 26,032,130 views and counting) followed by the Double Rainbow Auto-tuned* (5 min.).

    In small groups, have students discuss the following questions (5-10 min.):

    1. In your opinion, what, if any, rights does the original producer of this work have regarding the use and distribution of the work?
    2. Does the derived work (the auto-tuned version) violate the rights of the original owner? Is it harmful or helpful? Explain.
    3. Are there any benefits you can imagine to society from this free flow of material and derived work?

    Have groups share out their findings (10 min.)

    Next, view the two clips Auto-tune the News: Bush vs. Kanye and Auto-tune the News: Backin' Up.

    In small groups, have students discuss the following questions (5-10 min.):

    1. Are these original or derived works based on the description of originality? Explain.

    For the final example, view Tiger Woods Original Nike Commercial and Tiger Woods Commercial (One of a Million Remixes). Discuss:

    1. What are the implications of this type of satire/critique when it can be done by anyone and distributed anywhere?

    * Auto-Tune uses a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances. It is used to disguise off-key inaccuracies and mistakes, and has allowed singers to perform perfectly tuned vocal tracks without the need of singing in tune. While its main purpose is to slightly bend sung pitches to the nearest true semitone (to the exact pitch of the nearest tone in traditional equal temperament), Auto-Tune can be used as an effect to distort the human voice when pitch is raised/lowered significantly.

    Resources and Materials

  • Definition: Copyright is the legal right of creative artists or publishers to control the use and reproduction of their original works. Copyright law prohibits the unauthorized duplication, adaptation, or distribution of a creative work.

    Explain: For most video projects, copyright laws will come into play when you add music, images, or video clips created by others to your work. If you plan on broadcasting your project publicly, you need to get permission from and pay royalties (a fee for use) to the copyright owner of any copyrighted material you use.

    View the Copyright Rap clip.

    1. What is copyright in your own words?
    2. What types of things are protected by copyright?
    3. What are your rights as a producer of media?
    4. What are your rights as a consumer of media?

    Have students break into small groups and hand out copies of Copyright Basics (Official) to each group.

    Assign one of the sections on the first three pages of the document to each group.

    Have the groups condense their findings down to a few bullet points and report the key elements of the section back to the entire class.

    To help guide the discussion

    Copyrightis the right to use ideas or information created by someone else. The copyright law is intended to protect the rights of content developers and describes restrictions that can be placed on copying materials. In other words, if you create information, you should get credit. This credit can come in the form of money if you sell the information in a book, CD, or subscription Internet service. In some cases, people aren't concerned about money, but they want to make certain that their name or organization is associated with the information.

    In a global community such as the Internet, the laws become an issue. For example, the copyright laws in different countries vary.

    Other Class Activities (to reinforce understanding)

    Check out the Copyright Myths to see if you know the facts.

    Try the Copyright Quiz (internet link or attached below). Have students pair up and complete. Used as assessment for this activity (see below).

    Try the Copyright Interactive from Cyberbee. How did you do?

    Student Resources

    Use the following websites to become a better informed information user.

    Analyzing Opinions on Music Downloads - an interactive that helps students analyze information

    Copyright Kids

    Copyright for Students from Ball State University

    Copyright for Students from NCWiseOwl - answers basic questions about what can be copied and included in your school work

    Debating Music Downloads - an interactive that explores the issue of music downloads

    Define the Line from the Business Software Alliance. Industry response to piracy.

    Download Legal - focuses on illegal file-swapping

    Visit Copyright Bay - sail on in to Fair Use Harbor Matie. Arrrrrr.

    Fair Use Travelogue - an interactive that takes you through evaluating websites related to copyright

    (In)fringe Benefits? Investigating Intellectual Property and Copyright in the Information Age (Grades 6-12) from New York Times Learning Network

    Intellectual Property - a "crash course in copyright"

    Copyright Review

    • If in doubt, get permission
    • When sharing outside the classroom, get permission
    • Always cite the source where the information was gathered

    New Vocabulary

    Royalty: payment to the holder of a patent or copyright or resource for the right to use their property

    Intellectual Property: Have you ever written a story, created a work of art, or composed a song? If so, you have created intellectual property. Written works, photographs, artwork, and music are a few of the many products that people create from information and ideas. Many people enjoy sharing their intellectual property with others. However, they may want to get credit for their hard work.


    The Copyright Quiz (internet link or attached below). Have students pair up and complete. 25 points.

    Resources and Materials

  • Fair Use Doctrine Guided Practice

    "Integrity is doing the right thing even if no one will know"

    Read the following passage from the Best Practices in Fair Use document.

    “Fair use” is a key part of the social bargain at the heart of copyright law, in which as a society we concede certain limited individual property rights to ensure the benefits of creativity to a living culture. We have chosen to encourage creators by rewarding their efforts with copyright. To promote new cultural production, however Fair use is the most important of these features. It has been an important part of copyright law for more than 150 years. Where it applies, fair use is a right, not a mere privilege. In fact, as the Supreme Court has pointed out, fair use helps reconcile copyright law with the First Amendment. As copyright protects more works for longer periods, it impinges more and more directly on creative practice. As a result, fair use is more important today than ever before.

    Creators benefit from the fact that the copyright law does not exactly specify how to apply fair use. Creative needs and practices differ with the field, with technology, and with time. Instead, lawyers and judges decide whether an unlicensed use of copyrighted material is “fair” according to a “rule of reason.” This means taking all the facts and circumstances into account to decide if an unlicensed use of copyright material generates social or cultural benefits that are greater than the costs it imposes on the copyright owner. Fair use is flexible; it is not uncertain or unreliable. In fact, for any particular field of critical or creative activity, such as documentary filmmaking, lawyers and judges consider professional expectations and practice in assessing what is “fair” within the field. In weighing the balance at the heart of fair use analysis, courts employ a four-part test, set out in the Copyright Act. In doing so, they return again and again to two key questions:


    1. Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?
    2. Was the amount and nature of material taken appropriate in light of the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?

    Among other things, both questions address whether the use will cause excessive economic harm to the copyright owner. If the answers to these two questions are affirmative, a court is likely to find a use fair. Because that is true, such a use is unlikely to be challenged in the first place. Documentary films for instance usually satisfy the “transformativeness” standard easily, because copyrighted material is typically used in a context different from that in which it originally appeared. Likewise, documentarians typically quote only short and isolated portions of copyrighted works. Thus, judges generally have honored documentarians’ claims of fair use in the rare instances where they have been challenged in court. Another consideration underlies and influences the way in which these questions are analyzed: Whether the user acted reasonably and in good faith, in light of general practice in his or her particular field.

    View the clip Fair Use for Video Makers.

    Split the class into pairs and assign groups one of the four best practices to multiple groups (more than one group per best practice) from the Best Practices in Fair Use. Also assign the Fair Use in Other Situations section.

    Have students report out their findings to the rest of the class.

    Handout the Fair Use Guidelines and Fair Use Checklist.

    Assignment: Students are to make a 60 second video using all non-original assets. They must, however, construct the video using these assets in a manner that adheres to the doctrine of fair use. Students should use no less than 8 media assets that may include music, sounds, video clips, images, etc. When students present their videos in class, they must site the best practice or or fair use guideline that covers their use or otherwise show that the right to use the asset was personally obtained or granted via a creative commons license by the copyright holder (more on this in the Public Domain and Open Source Section of this lesson).

    Additional Resources




    Resources and Materials

  • Finding media assets that can be used for your creative work has been made far easier with the Internet. However, it may also be more difficult to make sure you are adhering to copyright laws. If you use the work of others, you are responsible to make sure that you have the appropriate rights to use the work. This may entail paying a fee (called a royalty) for the right to use the piece or an open license from the creator that gives blanket permission for use.

    Assignment: Review the material below and discover many of the excellent resources for media assets online. Utilize as many resources as you can in the Fair Use 60 second video. Site the source of the asset and provide any credit attributions that the license for use requires.

    Types of Licensing

    Works are in the public domain if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all, if the intellectual property rights have expired,and/or if the intellectual property rights are forfeited.Examples include the English language, the formulae of Newtonian physics, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and the patents on powered flight.

    Public domain may refer to ideas, information, and works that are "publicly available", but in the context of intellectual property law, which includes copyright, patents, and trademarks, public domain refers to works, ideas, and information which are intangible to private ownership and/or which are available for use by members of the public.


    The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy. Open Sources usually grants permission to copy, distribute and/or modify a work. A common example is the GNU Free Documentation License.


    Royalty-Free, or RF refers to a copyright license where the user has the one-time right to use the photo without restrictions. The user can therefore use the image in several projects without having to purchase an additional license. RF licenses can not be given on an exclusive basis. In stock photography RF is one of the four common licenses or business models together with Rights Managed, subscription and micro.


    The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. They give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work in a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

    List of resource sites.

    There are plenty of pay for use sites that are easy to find on the Internet. You may also be able to find the asset you need at the following sites that have assets that are largely free of charge and free to use.

    Creative Commons Audio
    Free Play
    The Freesound Project
    Ghost Note
    Magna Tune
    Partners in Rhyme
    You can also do these things:
    10-second clips can be selected for movie introductions or credits, while longer clips can be used for the background of the narration
    Creative Commons. Site for legally downloaded music for educational applications

    Sound effects sources Comments
    FindSounds. Downloadable sounds for a fee; however, a 15-day trial
    Partners in Rhyme. Many free audio files but the clips are only a few
    Nature Songs. Lots of free nature sounds
    American Rhetoric. A plethora of speeches—not downloadable, but video-streamed

    Graphics sources
    Creative Commons Images
    Free Images
    Open Photo
    Flickr. Thousands of photographs to download
    Browse by category or keyword more than 350,000 quality stock photos
    Foto Search. Royalty-free images
    Free Foto. Largest collection of free photographs for noncommercial use

    General Search
    Creative Commons Search

    Video clips
    A digital video-on-demand and online teaching service from Discovery education that offers downloadable videos during a free 30-day trials: www.unitedstreaming.com
    List of all free video downloads available from iTunes: www.itsfreedownloads.com
    Free online video streaming service: www.youtube.com
    Free streaming and downloadable video segments from the PBS series Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: www.thirteen.org/edonline/accessislam/video.html
    Free streaming and downloadable video segments from the PBS series Wide Angle:
    Photos, music, text, and video that can be legally shared and reused for free:
    Welcome to the Archive's Moving Images library of free movies, films, and videos: http://www.archive.org/details/movies

  • Assign Fair Use Abuse? Copyright in the age of the mashup as homework reading.

    In class, view the clip Digital Piracy together.

    Have students respond to one of the writing prompts:

    1. How can we as a society start to address the gap between what people do everyday with digital media and what is appropriate under the current law?
    2. What might be some changes that occur around copyright law in the future to address the issue of piracy?
    3. How do you think about the issue of piracy first as a media consumer and then as an up and coming media producer?

    Additional articles associated with copyright are attached below. Assign these articles as time permits and have students provide brief reflections either in a journal or in class discussion.

    Resources and Materials

    • Fair Use Abuse? Copyright in the age of the mashup [ Download ]
    • Digital Piracy in the News [ Download ]
    • Foos Fight McCain [ Go to Site ]
    • Why Presidential Hopefuls Can't Get Original Campaign Songs [ Go to Site ]
    • Coldplay Sued By Joe Satriani For Allegedly Plagiarizing 'Viva La Vida' Melody [ Go to Site ]
  • Have students read the Stay out of trouble: Know when to use a Video Release Form (below and link at bottom) and then create their own release for their projects based on what they have learned and the sample.

    Assignment: have students either during class or out side of class practice getting releases from individuals before they film the person. Students will need to carry a video (or still camera) with them along with enough releases to get 5-10 individuals to sign the release. Students must:

    1. Explain the project to the person.
    2. Explain the release form and ask permission to film the person.
    3. Have the person read and sign the form.
    4. Shoot at least 30 seconds of the person in an interview style.

    From: http://www.webvideozone.com


    Stay out of trouble: Know when to use a Video Release Form

    Here are the guidelines covering when you'll need to get a video release form signed before you can show someone on your videos. Following these guidelines can keep you out of trouble.

    The information provided below is not intended as legal advice. This is a general discussion of the subject matter, for informational purposes only. If you have any specific legal questions, we recommend you consult an attorney familiar with this area of law to ensure the Release Form you use:

    • Protects your rights;
    • Keeps you out of trouble; and,
    • Covers all the points related to your situation.
    Video Appearance Release Forms

    A video release form is also known as an Appearance Release form. It is a simple contract that gives you legal permission to use the image of the person who has signed the form for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

    Having a signed release form can give you protection in the event an individual appearing in your video should later decide to sue you for using the image (e.g., for invasion of privacy or unfair use of their image).

    When do you need to use a release form?

    Laws covering the use of images of individuals frequently differ based on jurisdiction - from country to country and state to state. While there is no absolute rule of law you must follow, there is one absolute rule of thumb:

    If you plan to use a person's image for commercial purposes, you need to get a signed video release form from that individual.

    There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you shoot a crowd scene of people in a public area, you generally do not need a video release form from every person in the crowd. By being in a public area, we all give up our 'reasonable expectation of privacy.'

    However, this does not mean you can go out and shoot images of identifiable people in public, and then sell those images for commercial use (e.g., in a clip art library). If you do, this could be considered an invasion of privacy (in some states), and you could be opening yourself up to an expensive lawsuit.

    Let's say you are shooting a news story of individuals in a public area, you generally don't need to get a video release form. If you are shooting video footage for an educational video showing people in a public area, and you use the footage in the context in which it was shot, you probably wouldn't need a video release form from each individual.

    You will want to get a release form if you:

    • Are shooting a 'how to' video, and you interview someone or shoot footage of an instructor.
    • Are shooting video from a workshop, you may need to get signed video release forms from each audience member who appears on the video - especially if you plan to use clips of indentifiable audience members for promotional purposes.
    • Shoot video at a private event, within a place a business, or a home - you will also need to get permission from the owner or organizer of the event before you start videotaping, in addition to video release forms from each person you tape.

    Getting a video release form signed by identifiable participants in your video is a good idea not only to protect you, but it also can make it easier to sell the rights to your video later on down the road (e.g., if you're shooting a DVD).

    What Do You Need in a Release Form?

    A good video release form:

    • Specifies what is being released (video images, audio, photographs).
    • Specifies that the videographer may sell or assign the right to use the images or other materials to third parties.
    • Specifies that the release is irrevocable. Otherwise, the release could be terminated by the person giving it at any time.
    • Is signed and dated by the individual releasing his/her images. If the subject is a minor (under 18 years old), the release should be signed by a parent or legal guardian.
    • Is in writing.

    The following is an example of a simple video release form. To reiterate: if you have any questions, it is a good idea to consult your attorney to make sure that the Release Form you use covers all the points that are appropriate to your situation.


    For good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I hereby consent to the photographing of myself and the recording of my voice and the use of these photographs and/or recordings singularly or in conjunction with other photographs and/or recordings for advertising, publicity, commercial or other business purposes. I understand that the term "photograph" as used herein encompasses both still photographs and motion picture footage.

    I further consent to the reproduction and/or authorization by ___________________to reproduce and use said photographs and recordings of my voice, for use in all domestic and foreign markets. Further, I understand that others, with or without the consent of ________________ may use and/or reproduce such photographs and recordings.

    I hereby release _____________________, and any of its associated or affiliated companies, their directors, officers, agents, employees and customers, and appointed advertising agencies, their directors, officers, agents and employees from all claims of every kind on account of such use.

    If Model is under 18: I, ____________________, am the parent/legal guardian of the individual named above, I have read this release and approve of its terms.

    Print Name: ___________________________

    Signature: ___________________________

    Date: ________________________

    Related Resources

    If you'd like to learn more about this subject, be sure to visit the web site of professional photographer, Dan Heller, and read his incredibly in-depth article on the subject of model releases.


    Resources and Materials

    • Stay out of trouble: Know when to use a Video Release Form [ Go to Site ]


Assessment Types:
Writing Samples, Surveys, Quiz

The Copyright Quizz: 25 points

60 Second Video: 50 points

Video Release Forms and Video: 25 points

Total: 100 points