Dimension: IP Law, Legal Issues, and Stories about Them

We argue for attending to IP law, legal issues, and stories about them alongside instruction in citation to highlight not only the importance of knowing legal rights and responsibilities, but also recognizing the importance of stories. That is, stories (even myths) about IP law, in addition to IP legislation itself, influence IP decisions. Stories shape practice. For example, many academics have heard the 10% myth associated with fair use: it is appropriate and acceptable to reproduce up to 10% of a text without additional copyright permissions. But, as Martine Courant Rife (2006) explained in "Why Kairos Matters to Writing: A Reflection on Its Intellectual Property Conversation and Developing Law During the Last Ten Years," the 10% rule comes from the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia report (Lehman, 1998) produced by—but never fully endorsed or accepted by—members of the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU). Nonetheless, the Guidelines were promulgated throughout academia, even though they are not the law. (Indeed, the Cambridge University Press et al. v. Patton court ruling rejected the 10% rule as a guideline to determine fair use). The story about fair use continues to shape academic approaches to IP.

This belief in the shaping power of stories, of course, is a core of our disciplinary heritage, and we think it substantiates why writing studies practitioners (should) play a crucial role in IP teaching and research—and what we have to offer IP instruction beyond rules for conforming to MLA or APA citation style. The data from our study reinforce that we as writing studies practitioners do well to remind ourselves, our students, and our colleagues that the stories that circulate about IP law are not necessarily what the law dictates. Thus, as good research-writing practice asks (and as good writing instructors would ask of their students), we advocate tracing back to the original source, if possible, when making IP decisions. The original source may be the U.S. Constitution, a court decision, or a university policy. Yet we also acknowledge that the law itself does not necessarily provide clear guidelines for making IP decisions. To again take the example of fair use, the Fair Use Guidelines indicate that what is "fair" is based on the "amount and substantiality of the portion used [is in] relation to the copyrighted work as a whole." But there is no clear dictate about what this "amount" is. As Kenneth D. Crews (2012) noted in Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators, because the "amount factor" is measured "both quantitatively and qualitatively, no exact measure of allowed quantity exists in the law" (p. 47). Ultimately, we agree with Heidi McKee and James Porter (2009) that "'the law' is a messy moving target, constantly in a state of flux, open to varying interpretations in varying jurisdictions, and, typically, not up to date in regard to emerging technologies" (Ethics, p. 73).

Video pedagogical takeaways

Practitioners included in the IP Law, Legal Issues, and Stories about Them video offer varying perspectives on engaging the legal dimension of IP with students and colleagues. Trapp, for instance, teaches students guidelines for adhering to (her understanding of) the law while Galin teaches students ways in which to push back against stories of the law (i.e., myths and perceived regulations that are not the law). Based on these interview responses, our larger study, our review of the literature, and our experiences on the IP Caucus, we offer the following pedagogical takeaways.

For teaching undergraduate students, options include

  • Acquaint students with the specifics of copyright law, particularly how long copyright protections last; correct misperceptions
  • Discuss with students what textual content can be included and cited as well as what content can be included only with explicit permission (even if cited) in different textual forms (e.g., on a website, in a remix video, in a blog).
  • Review together the fair use guidelines:

For teaching graduate students and colleagues, options include:

  • Explain the guidelines for textual use suggested by recent court cases, such as Robin Thicke v. Marvin Gaye, Lenz v. Universal Music Corporation, and Cambridge University Press et al. v. Patton, and their implications for writing and teaching writing.
  • Ask them to explain and justify their textual creation, delivery, and circulation options based on legal precedents and to use these explanations when submitting publications for review.
  • Share your own process of thinking through IP decisions based on legal decisions. Walk through your thinking.


Listed below are five resources connected with IP Law, Legal Issues, and Stories about Them that we suggest as ways of getting the conversation started about mapping oneself on the IP landscape:

  • 1. Crews, Kenneth D. (2012). Copyright law for librarians and educators: Creative strategies and practical solutions, 3rd edition. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  • 2. Media Education Lab, Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, & Center for Social Media. (2008). Code of best practices in fair use for media literacy education. Washington, D.C.: American University. Retrieved from
  • 3. Reyman, Jessica. (2010). The rhetoric of intellectual property: Copyright law and the regulation of digital culture. New York: Routledge.
  • 4. Rife, Martine Courant. (2013). Invention, copyright, and digital writing. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • 5. U.S. Copyright Office. (n.d.) Retrieved from