Saturday, May 14, 2011

Copyright: Holding to a Higher Standard

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Large copyright sign made of jigsaw puzzle pieces by Horia Varlan"]Large copyright sign made of jigsaw puzzle pieces[/caption]

Copyright is black and white...or grey, depending on who you are and if you are creating or consuming at the time of the discussion.  Toss the concept of "fair use" into the mix and things get more confusing.  Add in the facts that many countries have differing laws and not everyone is a part of the Berne Convention (but many are) and that most of us humans don't really understand lawyer-speak, and things get murkier still.  Coming up with a copyright "policy" in a school is difficult.  Even more difficult when you realize that the students you teach (especially in international schools) are going to be global citizens and since you don't know what country they will live and work in, you can't really base your teaching on the laws of any particular country.  So, what to do?

I suggest that we hold our students to a higher standard:  use only what you know (and can prove) that you are allowed to use.  Even a policy such as this one is not as simple as it sounds.  But we can try to simplify it as much as possible.  Is the item in question (song, image, etc.) in the public domain? No? Then have you been granted permission through a creative commons license (or similar) by the creator of the piece in question?  No?  Then do you have written statement from the creator giving you permission to use it?  No?  Okay, so you can't use it.  Simple - from a teacher's perspective.  You either have permission, or you don't.  From a student perspective it is a bit more difficult in that the burden of proof lies with them.  But this is something we can teach, and we SHOULD teach.  In an age where you can email a famous artist for permission to use their work, and millions of not so famous artists are licensing their work under creative commons licenses, we should be holding students to a higher standard.  Use only what you know (and can prove) that you are allowed to use.


  1. Awesome! I love how you’ve simplified your thoughts there – this is a great post! And you’re right – the local laws are less significant to a global student body. I think that as creative commons license takes hold, we’ll see better and better quality work becoming a part of what’s available for use. Nice post - thanks!

  2. However complicated and cumbersome the realities of copyright are, I applaud that the conversation is being brought to the classroom, and engaging the students with resources, procedures that leverage their own understanding of the importance of this in our digital world. I also appreciate that you are having this conversation with faculty and students, and providing them with concrete solutions, like Creative Commons. You are absolutely right, we need all to live to a higher standard on this topic. Great post.