As many have pointed out copyright is largely an outmoded legal concept created before the proliferation of the Internet. Organized forward-thinkers, like those at Creative Commons, have started the ball rolling on a freer version of some rights reserved as a response to this fact. The idea being that non -commercial use of material (one would hope especially for educational purposes) in the world of the digital open-source movement would better serve, well, basically everyone. With big companies liked Wired magazine getting on board the movement appears to be gaining momentum.
Our Obligation as Educators
We have a responsibility as educators to teach respect for copyright in the classroom, as outlined in the International Society for Technology in Education‘s NETS for Educators. Modeling is perhaps one of the most effective and purposeful methods by which we can teach anything. As such, however, I believe it is important that it starts with the school NETS for administrators. Policy needs to be in place outlining expectations in order for consistent, meaningful application. Many schools currently take no stand on the issue leaving it largely up to the classroom teacher but schools have the responsibility for setting the scene.
This is where most of us end up. We must decide for ourselves just how far we go in obtaining permission to use other people’s work. If I use a Van Halen song in an Animoto slide show for my class and put it on YouTube am I a criminal? I think not. If I sell tickets to a viewing of work from my classrooms over the years, using nothing else and make a profit I have probably crossed a line, easily provable should I get caught. Sell copies of DVD’s used and who wouldn’t find for the record company?
To borrow authority I will now defer to Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright and Fair Use Center site dealing with copyright and fair usage which states, “Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist’s work without asking permission. Absent this freedom, copyright owners could stifle any negative comments about their work.”
Case in Point
Having studied the importance of urban green spaces in Social Studies and formal writing in Literacy lessons recently it seemed a natural outcome to marry these new understandings (from the former) with our developing skills (from the latter) in order to embed the use of digital technology through the use of an MS Publisher template to produce pamphlets promoting the parks designed by these small groups of sixth graders. We further had to learn how to print them double-sided within the page margins not to lose any of the design aesthetic or obscure important information. Students then converted their edited work to PDF format for publication on their blogs. We turned the whole thing into a contest to see which park the rest of the elementary school would choose to have built in Chiba where the school resides.
The whole thing about copyright comes in to play here. I gave the students carte blanche. There was no mention of copyright infringement or citation made prior to the creation of these promotional materials. The students made beautiful brochures and we are set for our contest. Now, I could leave it here, dust off my hands and cry, “Fair usage!” After all, no money was made or lost. No one was defamed and, even when I try to publish the the lot with an explanation on the school website for promotional purposes, I dare say no one will ever be the wiser. What a lost opportunity that would be. I have plans for the students to now go back and make a list of references for their work to reinforce the notion of how important it is to do so whenever planning on using other people’s work from the outset.
Don’t blame the students. It’s my job to see that they ask these questions. Truth be told this whole citation after the fact lesson came out of necessity. My plan for the pamphlets was to use Creative Commons but the site has been out of service for some time now! Hey, I’m a teacher… I thrive on innovation and work-arounds. On the plus side, I have to say that when I shared my online free book, The Sharing Tree, inspired by Shel Silverstein’s The Giving TreeI was taken to task for my own copyright infringement. Another teachable moment put to good use and a rewarding discussion had. The details I will leave to your imagination.