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Can I Use My Own Curriculum Materials?

I teach literature and like to show students performances of plays or movie versions of novels we read. I have a good personal collection of these recordings, but my school restricts me to using a much more limited selection of school-owned recordings. I thought teachers could show recordings as "fair use." Why should I use the school's limited library instead of my own?

Your questions really raise two issues. One is whether a teacher infringes copyright or is allowed to share material as “fair use.” The other issue relates to your duty to follow school policies.

The doctrine of “fair use” has developed through many court cases as well as being codified in the copyright statute. Teaching is one purpose listed in statute for which reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, along with criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, and research. But purpose is only one of the four tests for fair use:
• The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
• The nature of the copyrighted work
• The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
• The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

Fair use doctrine allows teachers and students to use a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson. You may not be infringing copyright by showing your students a scene from a recorded play or movie.

But school administrators have concerns beyond copyright and fair use. School officials want to make sure material viewed in the classroom is properly related to curriculum. Administrators may want all students to cover the same content. And school administrators want to maintain school/community standards. Your students may be required to read Romeo and Juliet, but not allowed to see the nude scene in one of the adaptations of the movie. You must comply with the directive to use the school recordings, not your own.

Share concerns about classroom material and the limits of the school library with your Association colleagues and your VEA/NEA UniServ Director. Maybe you can be part of an effort to build the school library of recordings or establish a procedure to screen other materials for classroom use.


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