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Overcoming The Ethical Dangers Of Academic Fair Use In The High Technology Classroom

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Teaching Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1139.1 - 12.1139.8



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Paper Authors


Edward Sobiesk United States Military Academy

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Edward Sobiesk has a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Minnesota. He is currently an Assistant Professor and Course Director for the course IT305-Theory and Practice of Military IT Systems in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the United States Military Academy. He can be reached at

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William Suchan United States Military Academy

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Will Suchan has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Arizona State University. He is the Information Technology Core Program Director in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the United States Military Academy. He can be reached at

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Roland Trope United States Military Academy

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Roland L. Trope is a partner in the New York City office of Trope and Schramm LLP and an
adjunct professor in the Department of Law at the US Military Academy. He is an Associate
Editor for IEEE Security & Privacy. Contact him at

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Overcoming the Ethical Dangers of Academic Fair Use in the High Technology Classroom


The primary factor causing the world to shrink in the 21st century is the Internet. While web- enabled services enhance information sharing and facilitate collaboration, the proliferation of the Internet has also led to an erosion of respect for intellectual property. A key contributor to this erosion is the concept of Academic Fair Use. On the surface, Academic Fair Use would appear to be a means of protecting intellectual property. In reality, Fair Use policies can lead to an increase in less-than-ethical practices that are bred in academia and then transfer to the workplace. In this paper, we identify the problems associated with employing Academic Fair Use, and then share techniques that we use to help our students internalize ethical practices.


In a technology-enhanced classroom, professors routinely make use of various multimedia devices that display images, movie clips, animations, and other types of media readily found on the Internet. Professors usually display these types of media without guilt, believing that they are within the guidelines of Academic Fair Use. Students likewise use these same types of media snippets in their design projects and briefings, also enjoying the false security blanket of Academic Fair Use. Quite often, they are both wrong. Right or wrong, though, the invocation of Academic Fair Use guidelines is a crutch that is rarely scrutinized. It can lead to inadvertent copyright infringement, but more importantly, it severely impacts the proper ethical development of students.

Professors treat Academic Fair Use as if it is a right granted to them based on their professional position, instead of what it actually is -- a defense for copyright infringement. The strength of the defense offered by Academic Fair Use is not our major issue. Instead, the issue is the lesson that professors are imparting to their students. The behavior that professors model for and encourage in their students by using an Academic Fair Use defense when employing copyrighted material leaves students with a stunted ethical perspective and ingrained bad habits. Students come to believe that “borrowing” the intellectual property of others, especially in a digital format, is easily justified, since the professors they trust and respect do it all the time, and allow them to do it as well. Even when the professors are well within the guidelines of Academic Fair Use, the process is usually transparent to the students. From the student point of view, Academic Fair Use looks and feels like “Free” Use. Once these students graduate, it is easy for them to rationalize their misperceptions of intellectual property and to continue operating in ethical grey areas with respect to copyright.

With the 750 students per year that take our course here at the United States Military Academy, we encourage them to abandon the notion of Academic Fair Use, and ask that they show the same respect for intellectual property when they are students as they will be required to show once they graduate. Rather than allowing our students to avoid intellectual property issues, we force them to confront the issues head on. One of our most significant outcomes is that our

The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

Sobiesk, E., & Suchan, W., & Trope, R. (2007, June), Overcoming The Ethical Dangers Of Academic Fair Use In The High Technology Classroom Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2894

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