Mark Twain once said,
If you have ever done any reading on copyright laws and tried to sort out all of the rules and “fine print” in terms of what is legal and what constitutes copyright infringement, then you know that navigating through the information and making sense of it all is no easy task. Throughout my teaching career I have heard the term “fair use” bandied about by teachers when discussing matters that involved copyright. The following excerpt comes from the U.S. Copyright Office webpage:
“The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”
While this doesn’t clear the murky waters, it does send a powerful message. When in doubt, get permission. As a teacher, I am concerned about whether or not my students are getting a clear message about intellectual property and their ethical responsibility surrounding it.
When I was in school, grade school through to college, it was pretty clear to me what I needed to do to avoid getting into trouble for plagiarism. That was really the only concern I had regarding copyright. In graduate school, I learned a lot from my research experiences. I became quite skilled at paraphrasing the words of someone else in my note-taking, generating a well-written paper, and then citing the authors properly, APA style, in a bibliography. For students today, it is a vastly different task. Accessible media have exploded in terms of text, photos, videos, recordings, etc. that can be located and utilized. End products of educational activities that have involved any form of research might often require more than a simple citation in a bibliography. This is where the murkiness really sets in.
Despite the complex web of copyright verbage, teachers have a responsibility to educate students about intellectual property. I am always amused and a bit bewildered when I see student work posted somewhere with a citation attached that reads: www.google.com. The student has tried to give credit where the credit was due and, at the very least, they understand the NEED to give the credit. It’s important that students, at a very early age, understand this. Still, is this enough? One question that I always use with my students is: “If you had taken a really great photo or written an awesome poem, would you want someone else to use that without giving you the credit?” Intellectual property is owned, just as physical property is owned.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that enables the sharing of intellectual property on the web through free licenses. All intellectual property comes with an automatic copyright and, under Creative Commons license, creative works “can be shared and re-used under terms that are flexible and legally sound.” This is a brilliant way for owners of creative media to give permission for use. In turn, it clears up some of the “murkiness” associated with copyright regulations.
I posted this video in an earlier blog regarding the NMC Horizon Report and open content. It gives a very concise and compelling introduction to Creative Commons.
No doubt, Mr. Twain nailed it. I suspect that none of my students nor I will ever be faced with a lawsuit regarding copyright as it relates to an educational endeavor. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to inform students and guide them in making ethical decisions regarding the intellectual property of others.
U.S. Copyright Office Webpage: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html
Creative Commons Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BESbnMJg9M/