I’m often confronted with, as many other teachers are as well, students that want to download a picture of their favorite wrestler for a class project. More often I will find a fifth grader that wants to use an image of Eminem or another music icon for a web project, and I must reluctantly inform them that using such images on their own web page is both unethical and illegal. Because of these situations, I have begun to include short lessons about copyright and fair use in my teaching. I give them a chance to talk about what they consider to be stealing, borrowing, and “editing” and how those concepts apply to resources found on the Internet as well as in print media. It takes several small discussion for them to begin to understand that somebody else actually owns the images on line, despite the fact that you can often just right click and save an image to your own computer.
However, the bigger challenge is being able to answer their questions that I have not prepared for (not that we can prepare for every question as educators) about copyright laws and what exactly is fair to use in education. Some of the questions that caught me off guard were about music on line; specifically downloading it, burning it, and sharing it with friends. Many schools allow students access to video camcorders to make their own movies, and using music ethically and legally is very touchy in the classroom, especially when a movie might be shown in what might be considered a “public space.” I was not prepared to answer such a question, and I found it even more daunting to tell students that their relatives and friends that burned CDs in order to pass out copies of their favorite album or songs were possibly committing a rather illegal act according to copyright law. That’s when I got searching on the web and found this great resource – Fair Use and Copyright for Teachers. Not only did it clarify what the term “Fair Use” means, it also spells out exactly how to use copyrighted music, video, and images for educational projects. For instance, I was surprised to discover that you can use music and clips from movies can be used in classroom multi-media projects, and in some cases, these materials can even be reposted on your own website, given certain safeguard are in place ensuring that only students have access to the material and that it is removed from the web once the particular project is over.
If you have other sources for teachers dealing with copyright issues in an ethical and safe manner, please feel free to share here or in the forum, as I’m eager to know how others deal with this touchy subject.