Posted by: shineonali | May 30, 2010

Do You Copy?

I don’t have a lot new to say about the topic of copyright.  As everything I’ve read and watched so far tells me…copyright law is murky, fair use is socially determined, and even “authorities” on the issue contradict each other.

My big learning from the weeks we have spent exploring copyright and fair use is that we need to keep having conversations about these issues with our students and with each other. The technology gurus at a school can keep themselves informed of current laws and cases, and help teachers and students develop and interpret guidelines.

As a teacher, I try to model and explicitly teach my Grade 5 students that we don’t just “take” stuff.  When we write about another person’s ideas, or use their photos in our work, it’s a matter of politeness to give them credit.  And this is not just a “web” thing…we have been working on literary essays about short stories in Writer’s Workshop, and there was an amusing, kind of sheepish reaction when we asked in our revising checklist, Have I mentioned the author’s name?

In terms of specific conventions for giving credit, I was never big on trying to force eleven-year-olds to use MLA or AP type bibliographies–talk about painful–when they did research. At this level, what matters is that they write about what they learned in their own words, and give some information about their sources–a title and author is fine!

The internet makes it even easier to make sharing resources a natural part of a project.  Students who wrote a post about a famous landform–an optional activity on a canceled day of school–wrote a little bit, and said, “here’s where I learned this”, with a link to three web sites.  For children, it must feel so much more meaningful to actually provide their readers with their sources directly, rather than giving them an abstract list as in a traditional bibliography.

So, that’s the informational side of things.  How about visual media?  We are huge fans of Creative Commons in my classroom.  Kids are fascinated to learn that the “default” for images and videos on the web is “all rights reserved”.  I had to change my Flickr account settings to a CC license, because even with my explanation that these are “our” pictures, some students didn’t feel comfortable using them without the official designation!  We like how Compfight works for searching.  Music is not as easy–even though there are loads of songs out there, it’s not as quick and easy to search and browse as it is for images.

I do get a little confused over how to attribute images we use.  There doesn’t seem to be a standard way in blog posts–some people (including me) just link the photo to its source (the Flickr page, not just the jpeg location), some include the image link in writing, and I’ve even seen that some people tell the creator of the image that they’ve used their work (in a comment on the Flickr page).  This last makes me remember that attribution is not the same as permission, and sometimes makes me worry about how “polite” we are being.

Obviously, I have more to say about it than I realized!  Perhaps more another day…

Here’s a video from our course wiki (from MediaEdLab) that talks about the air of uncertainty that surrounds the use of copyrighted materials in education.  I like the description of fair use as a muscle that needs to be exercised!



  1. Ali, thanks for sharing this video. I’ve been doing some research on the use of book covers for blogs, like we were talking about the other day. The concept of fair use comes up often in my queries. Let’s chat soon about this. P.S. loving the blog. 🙂

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