Fair Use and Music

6, 7, 8

Learners discuss the fair use of copyrighted music. They explore how downloading music and movies affects the artists and producers who created the pieces. Learners write a statement of fair use.

PrintOne 20-minute lesson

The learner will:

  • define copyright and fair use.
  • discuss ethical issues related to purchasing and downloading music fairly.
  • write a fairness statement about using movies and music on the internet.

You will need a sound recording of a popular song to play for the group. This should be from a purchased source.

Teacher Preparation 

Before this lesson, make sure you understand fair use of music and ways people get around paying for music that are not fair to the artists. Some ways we download for free pay the artist through ad revenue. 


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Play a popular song from a music service or personal device.

  2. Say, "Let's say you want to download a song from a popular band. Can you do it for free?" Listen to how they can do that. Ask, "Is that fair to artists and producers who created that music and offered it for sale?" Discuss why it is or is not fair to download copyrighted music. Discuss how this relates to justice.

  3. Ask, "How is downloading free music similar to not paying a farm worker a fair wage for his or her labor? How is it different?"

  4. Define copyright as "the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)."

  5. Define fair use as "a legal doctrine that portions of copyrighted materials may be used without permission of the copyright owner provided the use is fair and reasonable, does not substantially impair the value of the materials, and does not curtail the profits reasonably expected by the owner (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)."

  6. Discuss these terms in the context of popular music. Discuss whether it was fair use for you to play that song aloud earlier.

    • Does it affect the value or take profits if you sing along to a song in your car? (No, this is fair use.) 
    • Does it affect the profits of an artist if you copy a friend's playlist.
    • Are you affecting sales for the artist when you make a song available through a file-sharing service on the Internet? (Yes, this is taking profits from the artist.)

    We are allowed to use materials fairly in several ways, but to download it without paying or making it available for others is stealing (violates copyright laws).

  7. The learners meet in small groups to research fair use and write a statement that describes the fair use of popular music and movie downloads. (The fair way(s) to obtain music or movies is ... because ....) After five minutes, give each group a chance to read aloud their statement. Discuss the similarities and differences between the statements.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.7 Identify how market economies, democracies, and families solve disputes.