Fair Use: Vital to Media Studies’ faculty and students alike

This week is Fair Use Week, a global celebration of our right to use in-copyright works for transformative, socially valuable new purposes like scholarship, criticism, and teaching. The UVA Library is celebrating this week by profiling some of the Wahoos who use fair use in their daily work, whether in teaching, research, or their own creativity.

Copyright grants rights holders a limited set of exclusive rights to control the use of their works as an incentive for creativity, but it also grants the public rights to use these works without seeking permission when the use is fair. Fair use is a flexible right that can accommodate a wide variety of activities, so it can adapt to changing technology as well as shifting social and economic circumstances. This balance ensures that copyrights don’t burden the very creative and educational processes they were meant to encourage.

Kevin Driscoll

Today we are profiling Lana Swartz and Kevin Driscoll, both Assistant Professors in the Department of Media Studies.

Driscoll’s research explores popular culture, political communication, and networked personal computing. He remarks:

For decades, we’ve stashed our cultural heritage on weird media, from punched cards and wax cylinders to magnetic tape and spinning disks. Recovering this material requires lots and lots of unauthorized copies. Without fair use, this research would be too risky, leaving us with a black hole where our digital history should have been.

Today, UVA students are reviving old computer programs printed in magazines, newsletters, and how-to books of the 1970s and 1980s. The self-taught programmers who wrote this code were among the first to bring computers into their homes and private lives. Re-running their code reveals traces of their values, interests, and commitments, helping us to see the computerized future they hoped to build.

Lana Swartz

Lana Swartz studies money and other media technologies. Of Fair Use, she says:

I study money technology, new and old, from the Diners’ Club card to Venmo. Advertising tells us a lot about who its makers imagined would use a technology, what they would use it for, and what their hope and concerns might be.

When payment cards debuted in the 1950s, they were used mostly by men for business purposes. Diners’ Club had work hard to convince women that they too might want a payment card, especially since most women would be denied an account if they didn’t apply in tandem with their husband.

Being able to use an image—rather than just describe it—is really essential to working with advertising, which has been a fundamentally visual medium for the 20th and 21st centuries.

 It’s perilous thing for cultural history to be locked up behind copyright. Fair Use is one of the most powerful tools scholars have. It make it possible for those of us who study technology and popular culture to do our work.

If you have questions about fair use, the Library can help both with access to materials for your fair use projects and with information about how your fair use rights might help your project move past copyright hurdles. For more information, check out https://copyright.library.virginia.edu/.

During Fair Use Week we’re be featuring members of the UVA community who use Fair Use in their daily work. Follow us on Twitter @UVALibrary or find us on Facebook for daily updates, and check back here for full profiles and more! 

Old Diners' club advertisement showing a glamorous women holding a credit card, surrounded by names of businesses

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