Copyright 101

In our world, we have so much information at our fingertips because of the internet. We, however, do not have free reign over it. Anything posted on the internet is someone’s thoughts and feelings. What a person post is theirs personally and because they own it they are protected by copyright laws. This term is used a lot in our world. When most people think of copyright they might think of citing sources or giving credit where it is due. Most people probably don’t know that this extends past the written word, Videos and pictures are also protected by copyright laws. Most people probably also don’t know how many copies is legal for them to make, or how many lines they are allowed to use, or the time limit set on how long they can use that martial. Learning theses things is important because you can get in serious trouble over copyrighting. Even though you may think that it’s no big deal or that it’s for a good cause it’s still illegal and you could face serious changes over it.

So what is copyright? First, we must understand that copyright protects everything whether or not you can find or see the copyright symbol, ©. “Material is automatically protected by copyright as soon as it is put into tangible form—for example, when it is written on paper, saved to disk, recorded on tape, or painted on canvas” (Simpson). No matter the form of material or information as soon as it comes into existence, it is owned by its creator and protected by copyright. The only thing not protected by copyright are facts, however, the way a person chooses to present those facts is protected by copyright. Copyright last until 70 years after the author’s death, so just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s no longer protected. Schools are some of the few groups that have “limited exemptions—known as fair use—to copyright requirements, but the exemptions are for materials used strictly for educational purposes. The exemptions may also be limited in scope, pertaining to only a portion of the material the teacher might wish to use” (Simpson). Schools still have many guidelines that they must follow, however.

Because there are so many rules and guidelines for copyright it is hard to remember what exactly you can and can’t do. To make it easier the four tests of fair use were created. If you pass then you can use the information without fear of getting in trouble if not then you’re probably breaking copyright laws. Number one: what is your purpose for the material? Is it for non-commercial, nonprofit uses in the classroom (remember you can’t make any money off of the material, even if it’s for a good cause)? If yes then move to number two, you’re doing good so far! Number two: what is it that you are copying? Is the material published or unpublished? If it’s unpublished it is more protected and should probably be avoided. Is the material fact or fiction? Remember facts are the only thing not protected by copyright, but the ways the facts are presented are protected. Number three: how much of the work are you taking/using? The more you copy and use the less likely it’s legal. Number four: how will you taking this material affect the value of the work? Are you depriving the owner of sales because of the material your taking? If so then you’re probably breaking copyright law.

While the four tests of fair use are a great start they don’t cover everything. Medium matters are another thing teachers need to consider when using materials. Most materials have different laws that protect them and teachers need to be aware of what kinds of materials they can use and how. When it comes to print materials (articles, maps, charts or chapters) teachers can keep a single copy for themselves and they can make one copy per student they have in their class but they can only do this once. There may also be a time limit for how long from when they got there copy to when they can’t use it anymore. Teachers can, however, get permission to use materials more than once and for longer time periods. Audiotapes and videotapes can be used in the classroom but only if they directly relate to the lesson. A teacher is not allowed to play things during free time or when it has no relation to what is being taught. Teachers who don’t have face-to-face classes need to be careful, they are not allowed to use “video, film or plays in distance-learning courses” (Simpson). Teachers can use materials created by students or other teachers only if they get permission from the creator and as long as the material has properly sighted everything.

Going through these guidelines will help you think more about if what you’re doing is stealing or if you’re in the clear. It’s important that we as educators respect theses laws, after all, we are trying to teach kids to follow these laws and we don’t want to be bad examples.


One thought on “Copyright 101

  1. This is a very well written, well supported (with lots of hyperlinks) post. Your understanding of the power of teachers to be positive role models is a mature perspective.


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