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President's Message: ICA & Fair Use

Posted By Paula Gardner, McMaster U, Monday, October 2, 2017
Updated: Monday, October 2, 2017

In addition to being the largest international scholarly network in communication, ICA also works and advocates for scholarly freedom. ICA is particularly invested in supporting the fair use of copyrighted (digital and analog) data and materials, without permission or payment, for our members. Fair use is a crucial right that we will continue to fight for in this age of mass information flows representing reliable, as well as less reliable and sometimes pernicious, communication efforts. Our rigorous analysis of information, images, and ideas as communication scholars is clearly rendered more reliable and made more accessible when we publish the materials that we reference. Much work is afoot in this area within ICA.

Last year, we transformed a working group on this question to a Task Force whose mission is to educate ICA members regarding fair use of materials, and to engage various avenues supported by ICA in this work, to ensure members know their rights. They are hard at work disseminating fair use information to members; this Task Force is headed by David Park (Lake Forest College), and members include Larry Gross (U of Southern California), Patricia Aufderheide (American U), Katherine Sender (U of Michigan), Jeff Pooley (Muhlenberg College) and JP Gutierrez (ICA). As an important resource to our members, we offer a link on the ICA website (under the Publications tab), to a useful 18-page document entitled “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication” authored by ICA scholars (coordinated by Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, 2010) to enhance our abilities to rely on this “evolving copyright doctrine of Fair Use”(p5).

This document outlines how fair use practices in the US, which notably govern our journals published in the US, may also extend to other situations affecting international scholars. US laws regarding fair use are applied, they report, quite differently depending on publishers and distributers: “some allow extensive unlicensed use of copyrighted material, while other publishers demand permissions for any and all illustrations” (p4). The authors are concerned that as a result, scholars experience insecurity over copyright exemptions and limitations that impacts communication research practices at many levels – in our selection, analysis, sharing, and publishing of materials (p4). All fair use instances are context dependent and case-by-case, they contend; to that end, the report offers examples of appropriate and reasonable fair use practices to empower scholars in their fair use decision making. For example, they offer the following as common and accepted fair use practices: historians quoting scholarly writings and primary textual sources; filmmaker and visual artists’ use, reinterpretation, and critique of copyrighted material; scholars illustrating cultural commentary with textual, visual, and musical examples; and the routine use in broadcast television news, of popular films, TV programs, archival images, and popular songs (p7). It is worth consulting this report to acquire a firm understanding of how fair use should apply in recurrent situations that you might are likely to experience as a scholar and a maker.

Relatedly, ICA has signed onto two petitions (brought to us by Peter Decherney and Katherine Sender) for exemption to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The first challenges the ban of de-encrypting DVDs—we have signed onto this and the petition has been successful since 2006. The second, most recent, petition asks that educators are allowed use existing media clips in all online courses (beyond the existing exemption that only covers MOOCs). We will report back on the outcome of these petitions which seek crucial exemptions also in the realm of fair use. Stay tuned for more updates on ICA’s efforts for fair use and reach out to these ICA experts in the area for further information. Finally, please do report back to the Fair Use Task Force on efforts you have made or challenges you experience in regard to issues of fair use. Patricia Aufderheide also is kind enough to run a “Dear ICA” column for the ICA newsletter on topics related to fair use, and would be happy to receive your questions at

Tags:  October 2017 

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