I began reviewing videos and media as a teenager in order to check for what might be inappropriate content for some audiences.
I was 19 years of age and had just moved to Boston, Massachusetts from Atlanta and was scoring films and doing background music for soundtracks. But my best experience came later in life when I became a parent.
When my older daughter was in her early teens and watching television in another room, if I could hear the sound of “bleep, bleep, bleep”, this was evidence she was watching something that I would deem inappropriate as a parent. Then, I would intervene and suggest more positive and appropriate viewing.
More experience came when I began judging school media festivals in 1999 and reviewing student produced videos. What I came to discover in my experience was this: The fact that some content may be perfectly acceptable to some people, but not to others. Then, things became more complicated in 2005 when YouTube was launched and the ability to “broadcast yourself” across the world created new challenges.
Now in 2011, you can search student productions online, and after some review, you may ask yourself the same question: “Who’s screening video content before it leaves the production studio?” The obvious answer will be “no” in many cases.
Some videos we have viewed recently contain clips of cyber bullying while others have rap songs with racial slurs as background music. (We later came to discover some of these had been duplicated to DVD’s and sold to the very parents they offended.) In any case, it is apparent these videos escaped the school’s studio unnoticed. Not only are videos with this type of content dangerous and offensive, but they also bring a great deal of liability against the school, district, teachers, students and parents.
In order to produce safe, compliant and professional videos, here are some questions you can use when screening your productions. Please note that you must take into account every component of your video including:
1) What is the “reach” of your production?
In other words, who will be viewing your video and where? Is it just shown in your school? And if is, is it to students, teachers, administrators, or to all?
Is it going to be on the community cable station? Will it be broadcast for the world to see on SchoolTube, YouTube, or some other global, public video network? Remember that the bigger the audience, the more you will need to be careful of copyright and different interpretations of your video’s components.
2) Is there a media release form signed by subjects who appear in the video?
This is very important, especially for aspiring videographers. It is good to have a media permissions process in order to have the rights to use people’s images. For more information on the permissions process, please refer to
3) Is there a media release form signed by parents or guardians of students who appear in the video?
This is critical for the protection of the students themselves. For example, if a student were involved in a custody battle, it might be for his or her protection that the parent would decide to not let them appear in videos or photographs, and, especially those posted online.
Most school districts have a media release form for this purpose. It is best to use current, internal forms according to your district’s policies. If you do not have a form, there is a good one in Carol Simpson’s, “Copyright for Schools” A Practical Guide, Fifth Edition – Linworth Publishing.
4) Does your video have explicit language that may be offensive to others?
When dealing with the English language, it is best to start with the obvious, what we would refer to as the “4 letter words.” But, using good judgment to determine the audience and context will guide you through exceptions. Sometimes in the right context, some of those words may be fitting, especially when quoting someone or getting an appropriate point across.
Also, explicit language can make its way into the video through background music that has lyrics. Be aware of your video’s various forms of media and take into consideration the age and location of your viewers.
5) Does your video contain nudity or sexual imagery that may be offensive to some audiences?
You might think this would never occur in a school video, but as an example, I recently viewed a video yearbook posted online that had male students dressed as females and dancing provocatively. Again, context is important, but knowing how this video would be viewed in your community and across the world will be a part of your good judgment as a video editor.
Exceptions to this might be a nude sculpture or nude painting that appear in a video as part of an art critique. The context drastically changes the nature of the production. The most important thing is to look for potential issues in your video where people are portrayed in a manner that would be perceived as explicit.
6) Does your video contain any images or language that may be offensive to a particular race, culture, or people group?
The world and our community are a melting pot of different races, cultures and beliefs. It is extremely important that you take into account how different races and people with various beliefs will view your video’s components.
7) Does your video contain elements of bullying?
This is possibly the most critical thing to screen for in your videos. The power of video used in the wrong way to bully another person can have fatal and irreversible consequences that sometimes even result in death. For more information on his topic, please visit Cyber Bullying and School Videos.
8) Is your video a parody?
Doing a parody of music, movies and brands is very acceptable – especially for creative and instructional uses. But, be careful whenever the parody portrays a person, company or brand in an unflattering way in which the parody subjects might object. You could get a “cease and desist” letter, or perhaps find yourself in deeper trouble if the impact of your video is harsh enough and reaches a wide audience.
9) Is there copyrighted media used without written permission?
There are variables to consider regarding the use of copyrighted media in your videos, especially where Fair Use applies. Since this can be a complex topic, please refer to Copyright Issues When Using Music in Videos—The Digital Age!
10) Are proper credits, attributions and acknowledgements given for music, photographs, logos, quotes and any other materials that are owned or created by an individual or a company?
Properly citing our sources is something most of us learned early in our school years when writing a paper. But, recent school videos posted online many times do not give any credits for music, graphic images, photographs, quotes and research information.
One of the best examples I have seen of good permissions and citations is at the end of the Ocoee Middle School, “Gotta Keep Reading” video at www.SchoolTube.com. The proper permissions were obtained for the various forms of media, and were properly mentioned in the rolling of the credits along with details of all who participated in the production.
11) Is your multimedia procured from a legal resource?
12) Does your video portray a professional image of your school and its producers?
This is where you can rise to the top. There are many well-produced school videos out there, but despite their excellence in production, many fall short of portraying your school in a professional and intelligent manner. Even when producing a humorous video, there are ways of doing so in good taste. Take into account the way you want your school portrayed, and be sure that your video productions support that image. A great place to start is with your school or district’s mission statement.
By asking yourself these twelve questions when reviewing the content of your videos, you will be sure and uncover any areas of incompliance and inappropriate material. Also, you will limit the liability of your school and make a positive impact on your community, and, the world.