Going online can put you on the firing line when it comes to copyright infringement.
Learn what you and your students need to know about copyright before you
post a single word to the Web. Included: Rules for
minimizing district liability and maximizing student responsibility.
In Applying Fair
Use to New Technologies, part 4 of the Education World series on copyright,
Nancy Willard told Education World, "The unfortunate result of the situation
is that teachers are in an incongruent position of trying to push the limits
of the fair use exception at the same time that they have an obligation
to teach students about respect for copyright law." Willard, a former copyright
attorney and project director at the University of Oregon Center for Advanced
Technology in Education, was referring specifically to the situation caused
CONFU's failure to develop acceptable fair use guidelines.
* Students should understand that copyright law is
designed to protect the financial interests of those who create
original work; that financial rewards provide the incentive
for the creation of more original works; and that obeying
copyright laws benefits society by ensuring a steady supply
of creative works.
* Students should understand that most of the materials
they use are protected by copyright; that the creator owns
copyrighted work; and that they have to ask permission to
* Students should know how to find the owner of a
copyrighted work and how to ask permission to use that work.
The truth is, of course, that teachers have always pushed the limits
of the fair use exception. Most of us, at one time or another, have found
that perfect piece of text, video, music, or art, closed our eyes, and
hoped against hope that our use of it fell into the murky area of "fair
use." For the most part, cocooned in our own classrooms, we got away with
it. With the advent of new -- very public -- technologies, we no longer
have that luxury.
"In the past," John Adsit, online education coordinator for Colorado's
Jefferson County Schools, told Education World, "teachers got away with
illegal practices -- not even having an inkling that they were illegal
-- because they were in the privacy of a classroom with a closed door,
surrounded by students who had no clue that anything illegal was going
on. As we use the Web, we blow open the door and leave our practices out
there for the whole world to see. We all have to become more knowledgeable
-- and more careful."
"School districts are liable for any copyright violations committed
by their staff, and the area with the greatest potential for liability
is the district's public Web site," Nancy Willard agreed. "The Digital
Millennium Copyright Act provides interactive service providers with
an exemption from monetary damages for copyright infringement but only
if the provider is not directly involved with the placement of the material.
On virtually all school Web sites, school staff is, or should be, directly
involved with the placement of the material." "School districts," Willard
added, "should be very careful about the copyright status of any material
posted on their Web sites. Most companies do not want to sue school districts
for copyright violations unless the unlawful practice is pervasive and
such a suit would send a message to other districts. Promptly removing
any material that violates copyright will generally satisfy the copyright
Willard also suggests that federal legislation is needed to provide
schools with immunity from financial damages in the event infringing material
is posted on the school Web site. "I made a recommendation for such legislation
in my testimony to the Web-based Education Commission," Willard noted.
"I have also made this recommendation to the National School Boards Association(NSBA)
and I'm going to encourage the major education groups to propose and push
for such legislation next year. The benefit of the legislation is that
it requires schools to be proactive in educating about copyright and allows
people who feel their rights have been infringed to have an easier way
to resolve the problems."
In the meantime, Willard recommends that school districts take the following
steps to limit their liability:
In other words, school districts can minimize the chances that students
or staff will be accused of copyright infringement -- and minimize district
liability in the event of inadvertent violations -- by establishing clear
policies, developing organized procedures for disseminating the policies,
and strictly enforcing the policies.
- Establish a process to ensure that all materials on the district
Web site are closely evaluated.
- Provide professional development for teachers and instruction to
students about defamation, invasion of privacy, harassment, and copyright
- Include an immunity provision in the policy.
- Take prompt action if accusations are made.
- Be prepared to stand up for staff or students if false accusations
Teachers have an additional responsibility to make sure that students
understand the spirit and the letter of copyright law.
Nancy Willard recommends that educators address the issue in their classrooms:
1. "Help students learn about the value of created works and develop
respect for the creators by discussing the importance of such works on
the advancement of society." Students should understand that copyright
law is designed to protect the financial interests of those who create
original work; that financial rewards provide the incentive for the creation
of more original works; and that obeying copyright laws benefits society
by ensuring a steady supply of creative works. The sites below will help
students better understand the copyright process.
2. "Teach students to request permission when in doubt about the status
of a particular work or the appropriateness of their use of that work."
Students should understand that the materials they want to use are probably
protected by copyright; that the creator owns copyrighted work; and that
they have to ask permission to use it. The sites below will help students
understand when they should ask permission.
3. "Teach students how to request permission." Students should
know how to find the owner of a copyrighted work and how to ask permission
to use that work. The sites below provide templates for writing permission-request
letters and resources for finding the creators of copyrighted works when
the information isn't readily available.
The sites below provide quizzes to help you discover what students
know -- and need to know -- about copyright law!
Finally, Education World provides the following quiz designed to
test your understanding of the material covered in this five-part Education
World series on copyright.
When in doubt about the copyright status of a work you want to use,
a. Use it and hope for the best.
b. Use it in the classroom, but refrain from posting it to the school
c. Ask permission before you use it.
The correct answer is c. How did you do?
Click here to return to the main
page of the Education World copyright series.
Editor's Note: The information contained in this article
is, to the best of our knowledge, correct and up-to-date. Copyright laws
and the circumstances surrounding the use of copyrighted materials can
be difficult to interpret, however, and information in this article should
not be construed as legal advice.
Article by Linda Starr
Copyright © 2004 Education World
Originally published 08/23/1999