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Copyrights in classrooms

Guidelines designed to avoid copyright lawsuits over student use of video, audio, and software may restrain the original notion of fair use.

The American Library Association is warning that guidelines designed to help teachers and students avoid copyright violations in multimedia presentations may wind up selling students short.

The "Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia" were developed last year by the Consortium of College and University Media Centers (CCUMC) in cooperation with copyright-dependent industries, such as music, movie, and software companies.

They were drafted in an effort to avoid lawsuits over student use of video, audio, and software components in academic work, but the rules have drawn fire from the library association and other organizations that say the guidelines may wind up restraining the original notion of fair use in a digital environment.

"It is premature to formalize fair-use guidelines. Doing so may unduly restrain the proper application of fair use in the educational and research environments," the association warned in a written statement released yesterday.

But the guidelines' authors say students and teachers don't have the luxury of waiting. "Our feeling is that we needed to be dealing with fair use this year," said Lisa Livingston, who co-chairs the CCUMC Fair Access Committee. "There will be suits over this. We knew we had to work with big copyright interests, but we've gotten every major interest to sign off, saying they won't sue schools that use the guidelines."

Besides, Livingston said, the CCMUC document is just one set of voluntary guidelines for a specific group.

The association said it plans to work with other library groups on an alternate set of digital fair-use guidelines.