Transformation: What is it?

Definition:   "a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance"
"Transformation." Oxford Dictionaries. Apple Widget file.)

The concept of transformative use as it applies to the incorporation of copyrighted materials in new creative projects has come from the court case of Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley (DK).  But the concept goes back to Aristotle who said that people fashion new things from old ideas.  Creativity brings existing things into new concepts.  The most familiar example for educators is the age old practice of researching a topic and intertwining the information by quoting, summarizing and paraphrasing information from a variety of sources into a new view of the topic.  This same process applies to all teaching and learning, including digital formats.

"...educators' use of the copyrighted materials is inherently transformative because the use of copyrighted content is not for the same intrinsic purpose as the one the copyright owner intended." (Hobbs, Renee. Copyright Clarity. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2010. Print.)

So the key questions become:
1.  Did the use of copyrighted material "transform" the material by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work with the same intent and value as the original? 
2.  Was the material taken appropriate in kind and in amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and the use?

As educators and students make a determination of transformativeness, it will be important to document the fair-use reasoning process. And the ethical obligation to cite sources is still an important part of the creative process.

What does transformativeness look like?

Teacher A's students are comparing two countries using a slide presentation.  They gather images using a Google search to illustrate the economical and educational situation in each country.  The images came from a variety of travel sites for each country.  This would be transformative use of the images because the original purpose of the images was to attract visitors to the countries.  The student use of the images is to compare and contrast living conditions in the countries. 

When isn't it transformative?

Teacher A is presenting at a conference and photocopies about a third of the lesson plans from Teacher B's published book and plans to distribute the copies to session participants.  In this situation, Teacher A did not add any value or transform the lesson plans.  In addition by distributing them to the same audience who might purchase Teacher B's book, Teacher A has a negative impact on the market for the book.  This is NOT transformative use.

Last Updated: August 11, 2010