Copyright, digital media literacies and preservice teacher education

Michael Dezuanni, Cushla Kapitzke & Radha Iyer
Published Online: Oct 15, 2010
Abstract | References | Full Text: HTML, PDF (2.8 MB)


This article considers copyright knowledge and skills as a new literacy that can be developed through the application of digital media literacy pedagogies.  Digital media literacy is emerging from more established forms of media literacy that have existed in schools for several decades and have continued to change as the social and cultural practices around media technologies have changed.  Changing requirements of copyright law present specific new challenges for media literacy education because the digitisation of media materials provides individuals with opportunities to appropriate and circulate culture in ways that were previously impossible.  This article discusses a project in which a group of preservice media literacy educators were introduced to knowledge and skills required for the productive and informed use of different copyrights frameworks.  The students’ written reflections and video production responses to a series of workshops about copyright are discussed, as are the opportunities and challenges provided by copyright education in preservice teacher education.

Keywords: Copyright, Creative Commons, digital media literacy, media education, media literacy, new literacy, preservice teacher education.


This article considers copyright knowledge and skills as a new literacy that can be developed through the application of digital media literacy pedagogies.  Digital media literacy is emerging from more established forms of media literacy that have existed in schools for more than seventy years (Buckingham, 2007, p. 145), and which have continued to change as the social and cultural practices around media technologies have changed.  Copyrights present specific new challenges for media literacy education because the digitisation of media materials provides individuals with opportunities to appropriate and circulate cultural artefacts in ways that were previously impossible.  The challenges and opportunities presented by copyrights can be considered in the contexts of two broad approaches to media literacy that include the arts and humanities tradition and the social sciences tradition (Livingstone, Van Couvering, & Thumim, 2008).  The arts and humanities recognise that the creative use of media materials for self-expression and communication includes the appropriation and reworking of written, visual and moving image materials.  The social sciences focus on the ways in which individuals interact with a range of social and cultural institutions, including legal frameworks.  In this context, the notion of copyright literacy is a new literacy that is important for successful participation in media cultures.

The small-scale research project outlined in this article involved a group of preservice media education teachers learning about copyright and the Creative Commons licensing framework.  These students were preparing to become media teachers in Queensland secondary schools, and were undertaking the second of three curriculum units in media literacy education.  The students took part in a series of five workshops focusing on the use of copyright and Creative Commons in media classrooms.  A range of data was collected from these workshops to use as the basis for an exploration of the role of copyright literacy in the broader context of digital media literacies for preservice media educators.  This paper locates this project in the broader context of media literacy education and provides specific examples of how the students responded to the workshops, before outlining some conclusions about the challenges and opportunities for copyrights education in preservice teacher education and in secondary schools.

Media literacy and copyright education

The copyright implications for young people’s use of online media, particularly when they are using appropriated materials for creative and productive purposes, provides an example of specific literacy practices that require fine grained examination.  In the download and remix cultures of the internet, copyright literacy is a new literacy that has social, legal and ethical consequences because of the widespread availability of copyrighted materials and the ease with which they can be recirculated.  The implications of copyright in the online context make it a ‘distinctive’ new literacy (Corio, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008) that requires specific knowledge and skills to be successfully navigated and used.  Copyright literacies are “…central to full civic, economic, and personal participation in a world community” (Corio et al., 2008) because the right to copy is a key site of power, identity, participation and collaboration in the online world.  In this sense, the need for copyright education expands the purview of media literacy education.  It supports Livingstone’s (2009, p. 198) claim that “…media literacy is now a central issue for everyone concerned with critical, participatory and creative engagement with all forms of media and communications”.   Knowledge and skills from the media literacy field can be used to help young people develop copyright literacies as an aspect of developing broader digital media literacies.

In order to productively use knowledge and skills from media literacy to address copyright implications for young people, it is useful to identify what Livingstone et al. call media literacy’s “knowledge problem” (Livingstone et al., 2008, p. 109).  This ‘problem’ results from the interdisciplinary nature of media literacy and competing traditions within it:

Those more influenced by the arts and humanities see media literacy as a route to enhancing the public’s appreciation of, and ability to contribute creatively to, the best that the cultural and audiovisual arts have to offer.  The focus is on pleasure and interpretation, creativity and diversity, and originality and quality […].  By contrast, the social science approach sees media literacy as a form of defence against the normative messages of the big media corporations, whose commercialized, stereotyped, unimaginative, and parochial world view dominates mass culture in capitalist societies… (Livingstone et al., 2008, p. 109)

Both the arts and humanities traditions and the social science approach to media literacy offer possibilities for developing copyright literacies, and these approaches can be used in tandem when dealing with copyright.  The arts and humanities offer the concepts of active audiences and participatory cultures, which focus on the creative ways that individuals use popular cultural materials in social identity formation.  The social sciences remind us that corporate interests can wield copyright as a legal mechanism of power over individuals to restrict their creative potential.  Copyright literacies require an understanding that the concepts of popular culture, identity, participation and collaboration disrupt a text-centric view of literacy and advocate for a “social, dynamic and complex approach to studying new literacies” (Corio et al., 2008, p. 527).  From a media literacy perspective, the purposeful and productive use of copyright requires knowledge and skills that allow individuals to use and produce media in creative and meaningful ways, with knowledge of the legal and ethical implications of incorporating works produced by others.

The concept of active audiences is an aspect of media literacy informed by the arts and humanities that is central to understanding the implications of copyright in online contexts.  Active audience theory (Hall, 1990/1980; Morley, 1980) argues that audience members actively produce meaning while using media.  Subculture theory (Bennett, 2004; Hebdige, 1979; McRobbie & Garber, 2005/1977), which draws on active audience theory, takes this a step further to suggest that individuals actively produce their identities through the creative appropriation of materials from popular culture.  In the 1970s subcultures research focussed on youths’ use of music, fashion and style in processes of self-representation on the street, in clubs and through bedroom wall culture.

In the internet age, research increasingly focuses on young people’s use of online materials for digital quotation and creative self representation in social networking spaces and digital repositories like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr (boyd, 2008; Burgess, 2007; Burgess & Green, 2009).  For example, Mitchem (2008) uses the term “parasitical” to describe the remix practices of amateur media producers who use existing commercial media to create new videos and upload them to YouTube.  Burgess (2007) refers to the vernacular creativity and Sherman (2008) vernacular video when describing amateur media production.  Bruns (2008) uses the term produsage to describe a range of practices in which individuals are simultaneously users and producers of media content.  Henry Jenkins (1992, 2006b, 2006c) theorises these practices as aspects of participatory culture.  These perspectives suggest that digital media literacy, whether developed informally through creative cultural participation or formally through educational intervention, includes audience members’ abilities to use the symbolic resources of the media to actively participate in media cultures.  In online spaces, the appropriation and recycling of digital symbolic resources has significant copyright implications, and being media literate should therefore include knowledge about copyrights.

The social sciences, broadly defined, have claimed that in the digital era media literacy potentially contributes towards challenging the centralised communications systems of ‘old media’.  The democratisation of media enabled by new media forms and new communications practices was suggested by Raymond Williams (2003/1974, pp. 156-157) in the early 1970s when he speculated about the development of “inexpensive, locally based yet internationally extended television systems” that had the potential to be “the contemporary tools of the long revolution towards an educated and participatory democracy, and of the recovery of effective communication”.  More recently, Benkler (2006, p. 212) has theorised about the potential for the “networked public sphere” to be a superior communications system to mass media systems which potentially promote audience passivity and enable government and corporate media control.  Zittrain (2008, p. 245) argues that what he calls the “generative internet” can only continue to be productive and encourage creative participation and innovation if it is free from over-regulation on the part of governments and corporations.

Copyright is a specific point of tension within media democratisation and participation on the internet.  For example, media corporations have attempted to regulate the behaviour of internet users with the assistance of legislation that criminalises copyright infringement.  A media literacy intervention developed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) seeks to remind individuals that downloading films, music, games and other materials from the internet is illegal.1 However, proponents of media literacy, including advocates of the open culture movement like Lawrence Lessig (2004) object to this style of corporate campaigning and subsequent legal action on the basis that it unduly criminalises everyday popular culture and creativity. In the United States Hobbs, Jaszi and Aufderheide (2007) have taken on the copyright battle in the mainstream legal and corporate domains by raising awareness about Fair Use in media classrooms.  Their aim is to educate media literacy educators about their copy rights under the Fair Use provisions in the United States copyright legislation.  This is important work that aims to demystify the role of copyright in media literacy classrooms, and that aims to influence media corporations to be more transparent about fair copyright practices in education settings.

Responding to copyrights in a media literacy context benefits from drawing on the strengths of both the arts/humanities and the social sciences traditions within the media literacy field.  Such an approach recognises that copyright literacy is not just a response to the tensions between individuals and media corporations.  It is also about the ethics of using other individuals’ creative property, and in the online world this is just as likely to be material produced by a peer, colleague or classmate as it is by a corporation.  Nevertheless, responding to corporate and legalistic copyright frameworks through the development of awareness and potential action is desirable.  In the next section, the Creative Commons framework for copyright licensing is discussed as an approach that bridges the gap between the arts/humanities focus on creative participation and the social sciences awareness of government and corporate power to address copyright and digital media literacies.

Copyright literacies and Creative Commons

Within formal media literacy classrooms, copyright legislation has quite specific implications for teachers and students.  Copyright potentially restricts the audiovisual materials that can be shown to students and the circumstances in which they can be shown.  It affects the materials that students can use in their creative media production and the audiences with whom their work can be shared.  Australian educators are provided some guidelines in relation to these restrictions due to the fair dealing exceptions in the copyright legislation.  For example, students and teachers are legally able to use ‘all rights reserved’ materials in creative production work so long as the productions are only used for educational purposes and are not screened in public.  However, the definition of ‘educational’ and ‘public’ is quite vague.  Whilst it is clearly acceptable to screen works in a classroom setting for the teacher and classmates, it is not clear that it is fair to continue screening works if parents are in the room.  In practice, student work containing copyrighted materials is regularly screened at school assemblies, during school film festival nights and in more public screenings as part of film competitions.  In the past, this has been standard practice, with most educators paying no more attention to the consequences than they would believe it to be illegal to record television programs on a video cassette recorder.  Until recently, copyright literacy has been a low priority for teachers and students.

However, the internet has changed the nature of both creative practice and opportunities for sharing work for young media producers.  Whole productions can now be assembled from digital materials found online.  Remix and quotation culture involves young people in the creative practices of taking commercially produced materials and creating new works to share with their friends and families.  Burgess’ and Green’s study of YouTube (2009) shows that a substantial amount of that site’s content includes “clips and quotes” of commercially produced material uploaded by users with the aim of sharing favourite scenes of music videos, films, videos and games.  This type of digital sharing and gifting is becoming part of popular culture.  Where students produce substantially new works in media classrooms, including commercially produced music, they often upload these to the internet to share without their teachers’ knowledge.  As the boundaries between formal classrooms, informal learning spaces and the internet become blurred, the fair dealing provisions become meaningless.  Furthermore, under the 2006 Copyright Amendment Act in Australia copyright infringement has become a criminal activity.  In this context, media literacy educators have a responsibility to educate their students about the implications of copyright infringement.  One option for media literacy educators is to introduce students to the Creative Commons licensing framework.

In contrast to traditional copyright, Creative Commons provides an open, legal alternative through a ‘some rights reserved’ approach.  Creative Commons licences allow creators to give others advance permission to copy their works by attaching a CC license to it.  Combinations of CC licenses reserve some of the originator’s copyrights in terms of attribution, commercialisation, whether the work can be modified, and how it should be shared (Creative Commons Australia, 2009).  CC materials can be searched for on popular photo sharing sites such as Flickr, through music remixing sites like ccMixter, and on video upload sites.  CC licensed materials like these constitute a repository of digital artefacts that students can legally and ethically use in their own productions to present ideas, commentaries, and stories without the need to produce digital raw materials from scratch.  Indeed, highly original pieces can be created from found digital artefacts that are licensed under CC.  This has significant ramifications for production processes in media classrooms.  It may also expand the scope for school media production where digital video cameras are not available or are in limited supply.  For example, a class could make extensive use of the range of media materials available through CC licensing to produce a variety of text types.  All that is required is access to the internet and some editing software.

The Creative Commons framework also allows media literacy educators to address both the creative and identity related needs of students and broader questions about the role of copyright in society.  The use of CC licensed materials in the media literacy classroom, particularly when used in students’ own production work, provides opportunity for teachers to critically examine existing and alternative copyright processes.  In addition, it allows students to experience copyright procedures as enabling and productive, in a manner that reflects the participatory nature of their own media experiences (Jenkins, 2006a, 2006c).  Engagement with CC provides an opportunity for students to take part in “creative cultural bricolage” (Benkler, 2006, p. 278) and communities of practice in which the free and open use of culture is promoted, but in which members respect the wishes of others and follow community protocols (Suzor & Fitzgerald, 2007).  From a media literacy perspective, the CC approach to copyright licensing provides a highly productive framework for thinking critically about the production and use of media products and the requirements of copyright.  CC provides a resource for the collaborative creation of media materials and for the broader implementation of copyright literacy.

Preservice media teacher education and copyright literacy

The remainder of this paper reports on a copyrights and Creative Commons research project conducted with thirty-two preservice media teachers at an Australian university.  These students were studying to become media education specialists in secondary schools in the Australian state of Queensland.  Queensland curriculum policy promotes the study of media and popular culture through the ‘Media’ strand of the Years 1-10 Arts syllabus (Queensland Studies Authority, 2002) and through the Years 11 and 12 subject, Film, Television and New Media (Queensland Studies Authority, 2005).  Whilst undertaking this copyrights project, the students were completing a study unit focused on the Film, Television and New Media syllabus.  This syllabus requires secondary students to undertake work in the areas of Design, Production and Critique.  As one aspect of assessment for the Unit, the students were required to produce a One Minute Wonder video production as a resource for classroom use, specifically related to a media issue like media violence, gender representations or online media and safety.  The copyrights project therefore intended to increase the preservice students’ copyright literacies, with the possibility of a practical application of the Creative Commons framework during the production of their video.

The main goal of the copyrights project was to increase student awareness and understanding of copyright literacies, and the aim of the research project was to ascertain the opportunities and challenges for teaching about copyright in digital media contexts in preservice teacher education.  One of the challenges of working with digital cultural forms in tertiary education contexts is that new literacies need to be developed, and this requires specific work on the part of educators and students that is additional to the work students are usually required to undertake.  Participatory media spaces are not necessarily good pedagogic spaces.  For example, Juhasz (2008) found that using YouTube as a platform for teaching and learning in tertiary education was deeply challenging.  Juhasz argues that YouTube is not an effective pedagogic space, one reason being that her students did not like the loss of academic authority in a communication space like YouTube.  She suggests that they needed to work too hard to gain the necessary literacies to make a space like YouTube productive.  Likewise, just because copyright literacy is closely associated with media literacy, media production and media democratisation, this does not mean that students will be willing to embrace it and the knowledge required to understand it.

However, as future media educators, it is important for the students involved in this project to have high levels of copyright literacy.  The research project therefore aimed to identify the extent to which the preservice teachers valued copyright literacy; their existing levels of copyright knowledge, including knowledge of the Creative Commons framework; their responses to learning about existing copyright legislation; their responses to learning about and using the Creative Commons framework; their ability to apply the Creative Commons framework after undertaking the workshops; and their level of confidence in teaching about copyright in a secondary school setting.  By extension, the research aimed to identify the possibilities and challenges for teaching about copyright in secondary school settings.

This paper reports on the data that deals with some of the more pragmatic aspects of teaching and learning about copyrights, including the challenges of working with ambiguities in copyright law; understanding the meaning of specific Creative Common licenses; the challenges involved with searching for suitable Creative Commons licensed materials; and correctly applying the licenses.  To analyse the data, a broadly based thematic analysis has been used to identify common responses to the students’ experiences in the workshops.  In addition, semiotic analysis has been used to analyse one of the video productions.

The first of five one-hour workshops dedicated to the project introduced the students to the role of copyright in secondary school classrooms.  The students were required to analyse the Australian Copyright Council’s information sheets about copyright and education, with a focus on the exceptions provided under ‘Fair Dealing’.  The students wrote blog reflections in response to the question: “What did you find interesting or surprising about the copyright information?”  The second workshop consisted of a presentation and question and answer session with a representative from Creative Commons Australia, during which the Creative Commons framework was outlined.  The third workshop required students to search for specific Creative Commons materials—they were required to find six photographs, one piece of music and one video clip related to the topic of gender representations, that could be edited together to produce a short clip making a comment on that topic.  The students wrote blog reflections in response to the questions: “What are the benefits of using Creative Commons materials?  Are there any disadvantages?”  In the fourth workshop, students wrote a personal reflection answering the questions: “Have you ever downloaded music without paying for it?  Will you continue to download music, even though you know you are infringing copyright?”  This was followed by whole class discussion.  The fifth workshop consisted of a curriculum planning activity in which students developed a lesson plan for a secondary school classroom with a focus on ‘illegal’ music downloads.  All blog reflections and the learning activity were collected as data for research purposes.  In addition, the One Minute Wonder videos that incorporated the use of Creative Commons licensed materials were collected as data.

Developing knowledge of copyrights

The first workshop undertaken by the preservice teachers in our study aimed to develop their knowledge of the existing copyrights legislation as it relates to secondary school media classrooms.  The student blog responses can be grouped under four broad themes:  the practical and mundane implications of copyright laws; the criminalisation of copyright; the ambiguity of the laws; and the implications for media teaching.  Investigation of these responses aims to move beyond a general understanding of copyright knowledge as a new type of literacy towards an understanding of the specific knowledge and skills required by preservice teachers to use copyright frameworks.  Many of the students made reference to the practical implications of copyright in the classroom.  For example, some students suggested it was interesting and surprising that teachers were required to follow the mundane process of correctly labelling and storing programs recorded from live broadcast; and that different rules applied to different mediums—some believed that the percentage requirements for printed materials also applied to broadcast materials.2 There was a general degree of frustration with the need to follow these rules.

At a broader level, several students were surprised by the aspect of copyright law that allows copyrights to expire seventy years after the death of the work’s creator.  For example, one student found this to be an arbitrary number of years and believed it to be unfair to the original copyright holder that copyrights should expire:

Why it was 70 years and not 100, I find quite strange but especially in the case of Disney I find that harsh.  What has been created became such a masterpiece and famous throughout history so I think that people should always credit him if they are using his work.  No matter how long ago he died.

It is paradoxical that this student represents Disney as an important cultural producer that should be protected by copyright legislation for an unlimited time when many Disney stories are appropriations of previous cultural work and Disney has been accused of infringing copyright (Vaidhyanathan, 2003, p. 10).  This type of response highlights a general misunderstanding about the role that copyright plays in the commercialisation of culture and suggests that copyright education needs to go beyond an explanation of process to open up a broader discussion about the history of copyright and the principles that underpin it.  This student seems to be confused over the difference between what it means to credit someone’s work with an attribution and the circumstances in which payment for using someone else’s work may be required.  In addition, the student’s response highlights the link that exists between copyright education and other aspects of media literacy education.  Copyright education cannot occur in isolation from other aspects of media literacy education.  It would benefit this student to interrogate the contradiction in Disney’s use of cultural materials and the ways in which that corporation subsequently aims to lock up its borrowed cultural products.

Another area that students found surprising was the criminalisation of copyright and the link to the Australia / United States Free Trade agreement.  Despite extensive publicity campaigns by organisations such as the MPAA, most of the students did not realise that aspects of copyright infringement had been criminalised.  One student said: “I found it a little surprising and disconcerting that copyright crimes are now a criminal code, rather than a civil code of law, the implications of this are extensive for teachers”.  For preservice teachers who are going to assume responsibility for the conduct of students in media classrooms, the criminalisation of copyright infringement provides impetus for them to become more knowledgeable about copyright.  However, there was also a significant amount of frustration about the ambiguities associated with copyrights legislation as it applies to schools.  Many students talked about the “grey areas” that make it difficult to determine sanctioned and unsanctioned behaviour.  One student said:  “…there are lots of grey areas with regards to copyright and what teachers can and can’t do.  It is not as clear cut as other areas.  This can make it difficult for us as teachers”.  Another student elaborated:

Many laws seem to be contradictory.  I think that’s interesting because it seems possible to break some laws just by adhering to others, and it shows how cautious you have to be not to break any.  The vagueness of some laws, such as the educational / entertainment thing.  It seems some laws come down to a matter of opinion.  Is showing a video at the end of the year educational?

There is a sense of confusion in these students’ responses that shares some common features with the confusion experienced by media literacy educators in the United States, as identified by Hobbs et al. (2007).  This is despite the Australian Fair Dealing provisions providing more specific guidance to teachers than the United States’ Fair Use principle, which is broadly defined rather than presenting a specific set of exceptions.  Fair Dealing sets out the specific circumstances in which teachers and students can infringe copyright in educational contexts.  However, students become confused by the definition of concepts like ‘educational setting’ implied by these explanations.  In many instances, there is no definitive answer to provide students about specific instances of copyright infringement.  A significant challenge for developing copyright literacies, therefore, is the abstract and provisional nature of the knowledge that needs to be developed.  As a new type of literacy, copyright literacy is highly specific to the individual contexts in which students and teachers are operating.

These student reflections also indicate that they viewed copyright as an aggressive law to be feared and adhered to, rather than as a framework to be worked with.  Furthermore, their anxiety about the legislation was heightened by the perception that it is ambiguous and ill-defined.  Teachers and students are accustomed to school environments being highly regulated and policed because most schools have a set of relatively well established behavioural rules or expectations.  These rules are described in straightforward ways and with as little ambiguity as possible so that students know and understand the correct behaviour in specific circumstances.  Copyright legislation presents a significant challenge in this context.  Teachers suspect that it is unlikely that the ‘copyright police’ will come into the school to check on their practices.  It is also evident that teachers’ own experiences of copyright infringement in their personal lives and the professional setting of the school have not resulted in prosecution.  However, they are encouraged to adhere to the legislation ‘just in case’ they are caught.  This implies a level of self-regulation as a result of organisational surveillance.

Several students indicated that they believe copyright may impede their teaching and their sense of freedom or autonomy in the classroom.  For example, one student reflected:  “The restrictions on student films is very relevant, because as a teacher I have to ensure that if I allow the students to use music from anybody, the movies don’t go outside the classroom”.  From this student’s perspective, copyright restrictions become a form of policing of the school gate, or even the classroom door.  A legalistic barrier is constructed that discourages teachers from helping students to make connections to their own cultural experiences which take place outside of the classroom.  This is problematic for media literacy education that has an objective to identify and build on knowledge that students construct through their popular cultural experiences.  Students often want to use their favourite music in their video productions and they like to remix and quote from favourite media as a form of celebration.  This reflects Jenkins’ (1992, 2006c) notion of “textual poaching” as young people construct their identities in postmodern contexts.

To deny these opportunities is to deny rich learning experiences, as identified by another student: “…copyright seems to hold media education back (a bit) considering we want our students to become media literate but have to use re-created media to do so.  This might only be in regards to student work—but this process is where students learn the most”.  This student’s reference to “re-created” media is a reference to having to rely on simulated media experiences rather than authentic or real situations.  Preservice media teachers are encouraged to create authentic learning environments for their students and to provide them with authentic audiences where possible.  This includes making productions to be shown on school assemblies, during parent information nights, at school awards evenings, in the broader community, as part of film festivals and in online contexts.  For example, the Senior Film, Television and New Media syllabus (Queensland Studies Authority, 2005, pp. 23-24) requires that students create “authentic learning environments”, “Include recent and ongoing media events and popular culture”, and “Encourage experimentation with new media technologies”.  From this perspective, denying the use of existing popular cultural materials for use in productions to be shown to authentic audiences impedes teachers’ ability to provide students with meaningful learning experiences that align with curriculum authority expectations.  Preservice teachers are therefore likely to feel they are in a ‘no win’ situation.

Applying copyrights knowledge in media production

Another source of data collected was a short video produced by the students in which they had the option to use Creative Commons licensed materials.  This followed the four copyrights workshops outlined above and provided the students with an opportunity to apply their new knowledge of Creative Commons licensed materials to a practical production process.  The video was created as part of the students’ first assessment project for their media literacy curriculum unit in which the students were required to individually research a common issue in media education, identifying key theories related to the issue.  This included issues such as gender representations and teen identity; media violence and social violence, online media and safety; and consumerism and advertising.  The students then worked in small groups to make a One Minute Wonder video that could serve as a resource for use in a media classroom, to engage secondary school students with the issue.  One out of the ten groups of students in the course chose to produce this video entirely using Creative Commons licensed materials.  The group focused on the topic of gender representations and teen identities.

The group’s video consists of fifty-six individual still photographs all sourced from the Flickr website and licensed with ‘Attribution Only’ Creative Commons licenses.  In addition, the students sourced music and sound effects from other websites, also licensed with ‘Attribution Only’ licenses.  The groups’ video contains a series of photographic binaries that aim to highlight the gender discourses underlying common visual imagery of the type found in advertising and other popular media.  The video begins with written text of the well known children’s nursery rhyme “What are little girls made of?”  This is followed by a photograph of the commonly recognised symbol for male and female restrooms and a series of contrasting images related to gender (see Figure 1).  For example, the students juxtapose an historical black and white image of a small boy driving a go-cart with an historical black and white image two girls playing with dolls; they juxtapose a contemporary image of a boy in a blue baseball cap with a contemporary image of a girl wearing a pink coat and a red ribbon in her hair; and they juxtapose an image of a large pickup truck with a woman standing in front of a very small vehicle.  These juxtapositions are accentuated by cross dissolves, which show the images blending into each other, with the masculine images always placed on the left and feminine images always placed on the


Figure 1: Excerpts from a One Minute Wonder produced using Creative Commons licensed materials.

The video successfully achieves its intended purpose as a resource to provoke a reaction from secondary school students about the issue of gender representations and teen identity.  Its structure is simple and easily read, while having the subtlety to invoke deeper readings and involved discussion.  On one level, the gender binaries constructed through the juxtapositions create an obvious narrative about socialisation and gender roles that could form the basis of a productive classroom discussion.  On another level, the subtleties in the video, such as the use of both historical and contemporary images, and the blending of images into each other could form the basis for more involved discussions about the history of gender constructions and the nature of gender norms and the role of repetition in socialisation.  The One Minute Wonder also serves as an effective model for follow up production work from students who could be asked to make their own video response to the gender video.  For all these reasons, it is a successful video from a media literacy perspective.  In terms of the use of Creative Commons in the media classroom, it demonstrates that effective teaching and learning, including production work, can occur via the use of CC licensed materials.  In addition, the production shows that preservice students and their future secondary school students can learn about the technical processes of image manipulation and editing, but also the theoretical knowledge related to an issue like gender representation.

It is clear that the vast repository of digital images licensed under CC in Flickr and other websites provides a resource that is an effective alternative to students needing to create their own digital images.  The preservice media teachers made a successful media production using an internet connection and editing software.  However, the production process was not without its challenges and it may be telling that only one group out of ten chose to use entirely Creative Commons licensed materials for their project.  Whilst it is clearly possible to make an effective media production using online materials, the production process is not necessarily any faster than a traditional process.  The group spent a great deal of time locating appropriately licensed contrasting images that would effectively reinforce gendered binaries, and then working with the images to ensure that they matched in size.  The literacies involved in making the video therefore included knowledge of design and process in addition to knowledge about copyrights.

Another issue that is highlighted by the gender video production relates to processes of attribution and the management of Creative Commons protocols.  Despite involvement in the series of copyright workshops conducted throughout the semester, the students did not appropriately attribute the materials they found and used.  The attributions were scrolled quickly at the end of the video, and the font size was too small (see the final frame in Figure 1).  The acknowledgements are therefore difficult to read and inappropriate as they do not clearly communicate the names of the originators of the sourced materials.  This is partly an issue of form.  The One Minute Wonder format does not lend itself to large amounts of written text as credits.  The students’ video is approximately eighty seconds, and twenty seconds of this consists of written text at the end of the video.  If the students had completed the attribution carefully, much more of their screen time would have consisted of written text.  The students should most likely have completed the attributions through a separate file, the contents of which could be added to a website if the video was to be distributed online.  Another issue is that the students have not used a CC license on their own production.  They are not required to, as they did not source materials using a ‘Share Alike’ license.  However, the spirit of Creative Commons suggests that it is appropriate to license work with a CC license, particularly where it has been made exclusively with CC materials.  Overall, the gender representations video demonstrates the benefits of using CC licensed materials in the classroom, but also the importance of using the correct procedures for attribution.  It shows that the literacies related to copyright require a range of knowledge, including procedural and institutional knowledge, in addition to technical and critical understandings.

Analysis in the second part of this article has focused on the challenges of developing copyright literacies with preservice media educators and, by inference, secondary school students.  This has necessarily highlighted the more difficult aspects of acquiring copyright knowledge and skills within the constraints of educational contexts and their curricular demands.  However, the students made many comments that supported the inclusion of copyright education in media classrooms and expressed the personal benefit of taking part in the workshops, as was the case in the following reflection:

I didn’t really know too much about copyright so have learnt a lot and it has been good to kind of know where we stand with regards to copyright and what we can use in the classroom and how we can use it.  I am learning more about what is available to students and what they can use.

The most important achievements of the copyrights workshops were, therefore, to develop student awareness of copyrights as an important issue for media classrooms, and to provide access to a range of information, frameworks and tools for further exploring and using copyright in productive ways.  The workshops helped to demystify copyright processes and showed the students how copyright is an important issue for critical thinking in media classrooms.  It also introduced them to the ongoing development of the digital archive made available through Creative Commons licensed materials.  Despite the challenges, the students agreed that copyright education is important and valuable.

Concluding thoughts

This article has argued that copyright literacy is one of the new literacies required for successful participation in digital media cultures.  It asserts that copyright education is likely to benefit from an approach to teaching and learning that combines the arts and humanities and social sciences approaches to media literacy education.  Such an approach combines the creative with the critical, where knowledge of institutional processes and critical thinking about the role of organisations and their impact on society complements the skills and knowledge required to use digital technologies in creative ways for artistic, social and cultural expression and identity formation.  Copyrights are at the nexus of these differing objectives for media literacy education because creativity in digital media contexts inevitably involves institutional, economic, ethical and legal considerations.  In the online world, copyrighted materials are easily accessed and recirculated and this is a common creative practice amongst many young people.  Therefore, preservice media literacy educators need specific knowledge and strategies for working with copyright in the classroom, and this is likely to require a significant time commitment by teachers and students.

Data collected from the project described in this article suggest that such a time commitment is worthwhile because copyright education provides preservice media educators with opportunities to understand the significance of copyright in digital media contexts.  However, it also provides a number of challenges due to the ambiguities and context specificity of copyright legislation and the complex nature of protocols associated with using both the fair use exceptions in the Australian copyright legislation and alternatives such as the Creative Commons framework.  The five hours committed to copyright education with our group of preservice educators was merely enough time to introduce some key ideas and information.  It was clear from the students’ responses to the weekly workshops that many of them remained confused about significant aspects of copyright.  Likewise, analysis of the students’ use of Creative Commons materials in the One Minute Wonder video suggests that our limited time did not provide sufficient support to the students to provide them with a better understanding of protocols for using CC licensed materials.  It is clear that in addition to the workshops we provided to the students, ongoing and context specific education about copyrights would be necessary for students to become more confident and literate copyright users.  Despite these challenges, many of the students indicated that they would be likely to include copyright education and teach about the Creative Commons framework and associated available digital materials in their future media classes.  This is a necessary development as media literacy continues to evolve into digital media literacy and young people increasingly circulate and recirculate the artefacts of digital media cultures.


1 The MPAA’s ‘Piracy: It’s a Crime’ campaign includes an advertisement shown in many cinemas and at the beginning of DVDs in which downloading movies is compared to shoplifting.

2 Under fair dealing, in educational contexts it is permissible to copy 10% of a printed publication.


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Biographical Statements

Dr Michael Dezuanni lectures in film and media curriculum in the undergraduate and graduate Faculty of Education courses at Queensland University of Technology.  His current research interests include digital media literacies and participatory culture, post structuralist approaches to theorising the relationship between young people and media and media education in school curricula.

Cushla Kapitzke is Associate Professor at the School of Cultural and Language Studies in Education, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.  Her current research interests include creative and educational governance in relation to the shrinking domains of public knowledge and public education within economies driven by global capital.

Dr Radha Iyer is a lecturer at the School of Cultural and Language Studies n Education, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.  Her research interests include media literacy, curricular literacies, gender issues and teacher education.


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