Friday, September 28, 2007

Getting Copyright Right
Appropriate use and the Web: a primer for teachers

For years, you've recycled that same cartoon on your handouts. You've copied that same poem onto enough pieces of paper to fill a file cabinet. You've distributed that pie chart or bar graph so many times, you could draw it from memory. You've projected that same image of the solar system so many times, you can still see it when you close your eyes.

You may not even remember where you got those materials in the first place.

But now that we're moving towards putting those materials on the web, it's time to find out.

Edline and other publishing opportunities raise the spectre of copyright violation in ways that are new for most teachers. Fair use laws may allow us to use many found materials in our classrooms, but putting stuff up on the web is publishing. And republishing copyrighted materials without the legal right to do so can be a liability issue -- for you and for the district.

College campuses this year are full of students being "busted" for downloading music illegally. As these college students are learning the hard way, technology makes many things possible, but possible and right are two entirely different things.

What does this all mean for us?

  • That same cartoon you thought you were perfectly safe using on your handouts probably can't be put on your edline page. It MAY not have been yours to stick on your quiz, either.

  • That same image you use so effectively in the classroom to help students understand the surface of the moon may not be available for you to use on the web.

  • That song your students downloaded at home may not legal to play in class, even as part of a project presentation.


Fair use laws are complicated and ever-changing. But the basic parameters of appropriate use for teachers are pretty easy to stick to:

1. Don't assume. For all materials, it is your legal responsibility to check for copyright information before you use something. Many websites will have copyright information listed on the home page, or at the bottom of a page, but if you can't find any copyright information, most legal experts will tell you to assume that the material is copyrighted, and to select a different image, poem, chart or other material instead.


2. Photographs are generally copyrighted, though they may not say so on the photo itself. This copyright generally does not allow us to repost those pictures on the web. It almost always does NOT allow you to modify or crop the picture in any way (note that edline "degrades" the quality of some images automatically, which counts as a modification by copyright standards).

Some photo websites such as Flickr default uploaded pictures to a fair use option so that, as long as you properly attribute where you got the photo, you can use it to do almost anything except sell a product, but it's still YOUR responsibility as the "re-publisher" to make sure.

3. On the other hand, most (but not all) clip art is available for your own use, even on the web, as long as your use is not a commercial one. But here, too, you need to be careful -- just because it looks like clip art doesn't mean some artist has not made it available under copyright.

4. Text generally falls under "fair use" for educational purposes ONLY when you are using a small portion of the overall text, and only for educational purposes. It's almost never considered appropriate to copy a whole poem, or more than a paragraph or so of an original text, in the classroom or on the web.

5. Your own rights and intellectual property matter, too. The moment you put your curricular materials "out there", other people can find them, and use them, as if they were their own. We'll go into this more deeply in a later blog post, but in the meantime, if you are not interested in freely sharing your curricular materials with the world, I'd keep the long essays and curriculum write-ups on paper or email.





Not sure if a particular image, poem, or "block" of text is "safe" for use on edline? Concerned that you've been breaking the law for years without realizing it? Have questions about fair use laws as they apply to your use of teaching materials? Mary Ellen and myself are happy to help you check out the legal status of a particular document or image before you put it "out there" -- feel free to email us at any time!

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1 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

Thanks for the cautions, Joshua.
You and your students may find this Fair Use Visualizer, um, fairly useful.

9:36 AM  

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