Copyright, The Right Way

Copyright is defined as the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same. In terms that are not so legal and dry, copyright is a form of protection given to creators. It allows people who make things, be they authors, musicians, artists, or creators of any other kind of intellectual work. This means that the creators have the legal rights to their work, and can tell other people if they can copy and distribute their work as well. It ensures that people get permission for using items that other people have worked very hard to create. As teachers working with multiple forms of media, and needing to distribute specific information to children on a daily basis, this can lead to some tricky situations. While there are fair use and public domain items available, not everything has a notice of copyright readily displayed on it.

To help navigate these choppy waters, Carol Simpson wrote an article called Copyright 101 to help. In it, she has given four tests for fair use that teachers can use for items that might not have specific guidelines attached. These are questions teachers should ask themselves before deciding what they are doing is actually fair use, and not a copyright infringement.

What is the purpose and character of the use? Will the materials be used non- commercially in a nonprofit education institution?

What is the nature of the work being copied? Is the work published or unpublished? Is it factual or creative?

What is the amount of the work being used? Are you using a little, a lot, or all of a work? The more you use, the less likely that the use is fair.

The effect of your use on the market for or value of the work being copied. What would happen if everyone were to do what you are proposing? Would you deprive the copyright owner of a sale or harm the value in other ways?

While guidelines for fair use are very important to follow, the type of medium being used is important as well. Different kinds of medium have different rules dictating their use, and just because something works for one, does not mean it will work for another. Print materials allow for a single copy to be maintained for teaching, and additional copies can be made for students, but only once and only with permission. Audio and video have their own rules, such as they can be used for something directly relating to a lesson, but not for entertainment. That means the video that’s put on for a rainy day recess, or class reward is technically a violation of copyright.

Understanding the ins and outs of various types of media might be difficult, but goes a long way towards legally protecting yourself in the classroom. With all of these different rules for various mediums, it can be hard to keep everything straight. Having a guideline available for looking up answer to trickier questions seems like a very prudent option.


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