Copyright, Fair Usage & Our Obligation as Educators

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.

Fair Use
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 novelists 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.

About these ads

About Sean Thompson

Sean has accepted a position as the Director of Technology at The Early Learning Centre, City School, in Bangkok. He is excited to be working with Giovanni Piazza and the rest of the staff to raise awareness of digital-age teaching and learning practice in this Reggio Emilia inspired environment. Sean is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, an International Baccalaureate Educator Network Workshop Leader and a Google Educator available for professional development at your school.
This entry was posted in Digital Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Copyright, Fair Usage & Our Obligation as Educators

  1. Finding sources after the fact is often a nightmare! But this is a great way to teach your students to be diligent from the outset about keeping a record of their sources. I work with graduating students on their extended essay bibliographies, and often they don’t have the information for articles that they found over a year previously in their initial research. It then becomes a painful treasure hunt to find these things.

  2. Naho Kikuchi says:

    Sean, reading your post helped me learn more about copyright and fair usage. I specially liked the part you mentioned that we as educators need to model good digital citizenship to our students. Pondering copyright issues aloud in front of our students will encourage them to ask the same questions, and keep them thinking about ownership of the material they see on-line.
    Does your school have a school wide policy on copyright and fair usage? I would love to see it if you have one.

    • Sean says:

      Thanks for your comment. My present, temporary school, is not what you might consider “forward-thinking,” however and has no such document. I will be offering my Acceptable Usage Policy for their consideration though (always positive). The link I created for Elementary for the Final Project for this course is at:
      and I would love to hear any of your comments. This page is a short call for freer use of creative commons, open source material and a link to more information but there is also a World Wide Web Seminar page of videos to watch before accepting the provisions of an Online Acceptable Usage Policy as called for in our Course 2 Final Project. Again, please share your thoughts and let others know if you think it may be helpful.
      See you Saturday in Yokohama.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s