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. This may be from a CD and player or an MP3 player (student may provide) that can be broadcast into the room.


  1. Anticipatory Set

    As students enter class and settle in, play a popular song from a CD or MP3 player or the Internet--maybe something from a student's MP3 player.

  2. Teacher:"Let's say you want to download this song from a popular band (fill in with a name students are talking about) onto your MP3 player. Can you do it for free?" Allow students to respond to how they can do that. Teacher: "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. Teacher: "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 at the beginning of class (a teacher may play music for a group if it is for educational purposes). Ask whether it would affect the value or take profits if you sing along to a song in your car. (No, this is fair use.) Ask whether it affects the profits of an artist if you copy a friend's CD onto your MP3 player. (This has a very limited effect.) 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.) Tell the students that 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. Have the students meet in small groups to 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.