Except for the occasional plagiarized passage or unattributed reference in student research papers, most veteran K-12 educators have had little experience dealing with copyright issues in their classrooms. With the advent of the Internet, however, their need to know about copyright law and to understand its implications for such activities as Internet research, downloading programs and documents, creating class Web sites, and installing software on school networks has increased dramatically. Most reference materials on the subject, however, are so buried in legal gobbledygook and cloaked in ambiguity that it takes a copyright expert to interpret it all. Luckily, Education World has found one! Read on as educator and copyright attorney Nancy Willard discusses the kinds of educational activities that risk copyright infringement and provides strategies for minimizing that risk. Included: A sample Web site management chart and a sample copyright permission request formWhen teachers and students use the Internet, they have access to a wide variety of material -- much of which may be protected by copyright law. Both educators and their students need to be aware of the kinds of activities that risk copyright infringement and they need to develop strategies to minimize that risk. Common classroom practices that should raise concerns about copyright infringement -- and strategies to address those concerns -- include the following.
Downloading copyrighted material from the Internet and using it in a way that violates the rights of the copyright owner.
A large amount of material that is either in the public domain or that has been made available for classroom use is available on educational Web sites. Such material can be freely used or used in accordance with the designated requirements. Other online material remains fully protected under copyright law. The standard Fair Use Guidelines for Educators should be followed for that latter type of material.
Allowing students to use the district Internet system to download copyrighted material, such as MP3 files of popular music.
Districts must closely evaluate Web traffic to ensure that students are not using the district Internet system as a vehicle to exchange copyrighted materials. Such activity would result in a significant amount of traffic and should be easily detectable by an astute system administrator.
Material posted on the district's public Web site in violation of copyright law.
School districts must be very careful about the copyright status of any material posted on their Web sites. The following strategy can address potential liability concerns and assist teachers and students in gaining a better understanding of copyright laws:
Software used in violation of copyright law.
Another technology-related, although not specifically Internet-related, area in which districts run a risk of liability that regards the violation of copyright or licensing agreements in the use of software. The Software Industry and Information Association provides excellent recommendations for the establishment of effective software management programs in schools.
THE COPYRIGHT RIGHTS OF STUDENTS
Recognizing and respecting the copyright status of works created by students is another important, and often neglected, aspect of copyright that schools need to consider. Students should learn about the rights they have as creators and about how copyright laws help protect those rights. All student-created works that are published by the school should include a copyright notice with the student's name (older students) or unique student identifier (younger students). When students understand that copyright laws protect their personal interests, they will be more inclined to respect the copyright rights of other creators.
Copyright law reflects an important balance between the rights of the creators and the benefits to society resulting from the creation and dissemination of creative works. It is important to keep this balance in mind when addressing copyright in schools.
For more information about kids and copyright, see the Education World Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use series.
Article by Nancy Willard
Copyright © 2004 Education World