In August of 2006, law professors William W. Fisher and William McGeveran of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, published "The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age," a white paper based on their research and two all-day workshops in which librarians, teachers, lawyers, and scholars gathered to discuss their encounters with copyright law. Their collective efforts and the publication of this white paper constitute one of the top intellectual property developments of 2006 because revealed and clarified four central problems related to the intersection among digital media, education, and copyright law:

  • Unclear or inadequate copyright law relating to crucial provisions such as fair use and educational use;
  • Extensive adoption of 'digital rights management' technology to lock up content;
  • Practical difficulties obtaining rights to use content when licenses are necessary;
  • Undue caution by gatekeepers such as publishers or educational administrators.

To illustrate these problems, Fisher and McGeveran present four case studies of digital educational endeavors that were delayed or jeopardized by copyright law. These include: 1.) a proposal to create a network for social studies teachers share teaching materials; 2.) the use of movie scenes on DVD in film studies courses; 3.) the Database for Recorded American Music (DRAM), a repository of obscure music; and 4.) the conflict that arises when public broadcasters, who are allowed to use some third-party content in their programs, make programming available on the Web. In this review of Fisher and McGeveran's white paper, I make connections between their case studies and the situations faced in rhetoric and composition pedagogy, and I explain what composition scholars can do to help protect teachers' rights to use third-party content for noncommercial, educational purposes.