Kindergarten Copyright

I have seen many articles about the importance of teachers knowing about the copyright laws. And I agree with all of them! I firmly believe that you are never too young (or old) to learn about copyright.

According to, copyright is:

The legal right granted to an author, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.

Also, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected under law.

And saying that in kindergartenese:

Only the person who created the music, drew the picture, or wrote the poem owns that piece of artistic work. This means that when Andrew draws a picture of his cat Missy he holds a copyright on his drawing! Even if Andrew never shows anybody but his mommy that picture of Missy, he still has something called a copyright, and no one else can use that picture of Missy and say they made it.

What can you do to make the concept of copyright meaningful to a young child?

You can begin by explaining the importance of not taking someone else's work. Students are taught that they shouldn't eat Andrew's snack, and that it's not right to take Mari's scissors. They can also be taught that when they see Andrew's drawing of his cat, that art work is copyrighted, and Mari can't take it home and claim that she drew it. Then when students are on the computer, and they see a pretty picture that they want to download, they can be reminded that just like Andrew's drawing, that picture belongs to someone, and they can't take it without permission.

Students might see their older brothers and sisters downloading music and videos from the web, and think that it is ok. But they have to know, it is not only wrong, it is illegal. Perhaps you can have the students picture their brothers and sisters holding a CD in their hand. Now, what would their brothers or sisters do if someone came and took that CD out of their hand? Well, the music might be on the web, and there might not be a CD to see, but that music still belongs to someone. Teach those students, that if they see anyone downloading a song that doesn't belong to them, and that they have not paid for, it is the same as stealing that CD.

Fair Use

As teachers, we also know that there is something called Fair Use, which helps us use original works to teach subject matter. Young students, even in elementary schools, need to be taught the basics of Fair Use.

Fair Use does not mean that everything is up for grabs if you are a student or teacher. Fair Use means that for purposes such as teaching, reproduction of original works is not an infringement of copyright. How do you know what is included under Fair Use? And teachers, do you know the guidelines for Student Use, as opposed to Educator Use?

When trying to decide what Fair Use is, there are really only 4 things that matter.

  1. Use The use must be for nonprofit educational purposes. How would you explain that to a child? Simple if you make lemonade and sell it at your mother's yard sale, you get to keep the money, right? That's profit. So, if you are NOT going to make money by using someone else's work for your school project, THEN, it is probably OK.
  2. The Nature of the Work There is no question here when using material that is mainly demonstrable fact and that lacks another person's creativity, subjectivity, opinion, etc. So, it is fine to re-state facts such as "My mother is 40 years old." Although it might get you in trouble with her, you will be fine as far as the laws are concerned. Or if you use information from an almanac, such as "In 1995, Yakutat, Alaska reached 87 degrees F, a record for that town." you have not violated copyright.
  3. The Amount Used If you are doing a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on John Williams, the Hollywood composer, and you want to use some of the Star Wars music by Mr. Williams that you have on CD, it is probably ok if you only use parts of one or more tracks.
  4. The Effect of Use Will using that piece of music or that art work actually mean taking money away from someone? Would Andrew be able to actually sell that drawing he did of Mrs. Shaw? And if so would anyone still want to buy the picture if everyone already had a free copy?

To cite or to use a citation means to make a short note acknowledging a source (of information or perhaps the name of the artist whose picture they are using in their report).

Next, you can explain to the students that, just like correctly putting their name on their school work, with the date, and period number (or subject), there is a correct way to cite a book, movie or website. Depending on the grade, you could give a little bit of information about the APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association) types of citing.

The APA's style rules and guidelines, used by all social and behavioral scientists, are explained at APA, where you'll also find a link to their official Publication Manual. The MLA does not offer any online help, but their MLA Style page offers a link to the page from which one can order the essential and relatively inexpensive ($17.00, paperbound) MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.

I just tell my students that they are to use the MLA style, and put a bibliographical example on the board for them to copy. For example, I write: Withers-Shaw, Marijean. How to Dress for Hogwarts. Sanford, FL: Bantam, 2003.) Then I break it down, and explain each section.

Withers-Shaw, Marijean is the author
How to Dress for Hogwarts is the name of the book
Sanford, FL is where the book is published
Bantam is the name of the publishing company
2003 is the year it was published.

A first grader would be hard pressed to put all the information required for a proper MLA citing of a book. But, they could very easily tell the name of the author, and the title of the book. It is also enough information to be appropriate for use.

Students will always ask "But why? Why must I cite?" Remind them that they are using someone else's words or someone else's artwork. Because someone created those words or that piece of music, they actually were copyrighted. Now wouldn't they get mad if someone stole something from them? Well, it is not fair for the students to steal, either. So by citing you are telling everyone that some of the words, or even the music you used, was actually written or created by someone else and that you are just borrowing it. You are being fair and legal.

This also goes for Web sites that students use to gather information, or to get pictures and sound. You must assume that the work on a Web site is copyrighted. Why would it not be copyrighted? But unlike a book, which is out in the big wide world, meant to be used and quoted, a Web site can sometimes be something personal, and the owner might not want you to use his pictures or words. This is why when using Web sources, students should also learn how to write and ask permission to use someone else's work. Again, just like teaching a student to write Thank You notes, teaching a student to write a Request for Permission to Use letter should begin even when they're young!

Bellingham Schools, in Bellingham, WA offer a Copyright Permission Letter that can be copied and E-mailed to a site's owner when requesting to "re-publish" writing or graphics. It is a simple letter, stating that the use is for education, the name of their school, and requesting 'republish' rights. It's very concise and very nicely stated for student use.

And the guidelines for Student Use?

Finally, there are three concepts that you should know about Copyright, Fair Use, and the Guidelines for Student use. They are:

  1. Students can use small portions of copyrighted works when creating their own multimedia projects for specific classes.
  2. Students can perform and show their work, IN CLASS.
  3. Students can even keep all of this in a portfolio as examples of their academic work to show later for school and job interviews.

So, don't wait, teach your students, even the kindergarteners about Copyright!!!

Email: Rosemary Shaw

Resources and additional links

Education World's District Liability and Teaching Responsibility
The site lists resources for teaching students the basics of copyright, and discusses the sometimes tricky issue of district liability for online content. Worth reading, especially for district personnel.

Lesson on Copyright
This is an easy to adapt lesson (from the Listening to the Walls Talk project) which will help teach students about this concept.

From Pokemon® to Picasso: Art Rights and Wrongs
The site, an award-winning ThinkQuest Junior 2000 site, was written by middle-schoolers to help their peers understand copyright, trademarks, licenses, and a host of other topics in a delightful kid-friendly format.

Copyright Website
A commercial-looking site that is a comprehensive portal about all things copyright, including the controversies over MP-3 and MPEG file-sharing programs as well as issues of digital copyright. For a fee the site will help you to copyright your own Web site.

What is Copyright Protection?
This site claims that it "does not refer to the laws of any country in particular" as it uses the "Berne Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Property (Berne Convention)" as its main bibliographical source. But for those interested in the issue of global copyright it is fascinating.

How to Create a Bibliography
Have your students read the clear and explicit grade-level appropriate clickable instructions for students in each grade from first to sixth.

QuickCite by Noodletools
A great resource for students. It offers interactive examples of MLA-type citations for a baker's-dozen of sources everything from magazine articles to E-mail messages to interviews and allows students to enter their own data and compare results.