Right to Copy? - Tech Learning

Right to Copy?

The day is past when educators can legitimately claim ignorance of digital copyright and fair use laws. The ed tech community has addressed digital copyright and fair use a lot in recent years, including in T&L's copyright quizzes and charts for teachers and administrators (downloadable at
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The day is past when educators can legitimately claim ignorance of digital copyright and fair use laws. The ed tech community has addressed digital copyright and fair use a lot in recent years, including in T&L's copyright quizzes and charts for teachers and administrators (downloadable at www.techlearning.com/copyrightguide). There is still, however, the ongoing challenge of keeping up with ever-changing statutes as technology itself matures, not to mention the necessity of integrating meaningful training for staff, parents, and students into regular district systems.

Following are profiles of three different approaches to getting educators and other stakeholders up to speed on copyright laws. These models emphasize practicality, step-by-step systems, and a solid grounding in the unique protections and freer regulations that apply to copyright in education. Feel free to copy.

Kent School District:
A Systematized Approach

Don Hall is IT executive director for the Kent School District, Washington's fourth largest district. He oversees the technology policies for 27,300 students and 41 schools, supervising a diverse Seattle metropolitan district covering 72 square miles. Thanks to a voter-approved technology levy, the district's school technology profile is robust, with wireless connectivity, a phalanx of laptops and desktops, and a 3:1 student/computer ratio. This technological bounty is quite a boon. However, with it comes a host of copyright-related concerns around the broader access to multimedia and Web content. The Kent School District has risen to the challenge with a comprehensive, detailed copyright ethics policy and a systematic plan to train faculty and students.

Steps to Empowerment

Step one is Kent's board-mandated acceptable use policy, with subsections specifically addressing educator, student, and parent rights and behaviors. "We want our staff and students to understand that in our information culture, digital literacy is an important trademark of a successful citizen," says Hall.

Step two requires every staff member, student, and parent to sign the appropriate policy with the knowledge that the signed documents will be kept on file to protect the district against liability and act as a springboard for meaningful discussion should an infraction occur. A primary goal of these policies is to give the district, community, and employees the best tools to teach, learn, and support within the copyright guidelines. Practicality is king at Kent: "Beyond legality and protection, these policies have to work well within your instructional context," Hall says.

The third step is composed of introductory instruction. Kent's approach to new employee orientation begins with the broad perspective of district culture and expectations. Within that overview, educators learn about available digital resources and how to take advantage of them, along with acceptable procedures, practices, and boundaries for safe operation. Once the copyright topic is broached, says Hall, the questions fly. The most common topics include content filters, copying software, and preventing student Internet plagiarism. There's only so much detail, though, that an orientation class can delve into, so new teachers are also told, "If you want to know more, we strongly recommend you take the in-depth class."

The final step is Untangling the Web, the comprehensive class Kent has developed to help teachers truly understand the complexities involved in using the Internet and other online resources as viable instructional tools. The course focuses on the two most complicated issues teachers confront as they teach students to research and write: how to discover if content comes from credible Web resources and how to deal with digital plagiarism. Teachers learn about sites that scan papers for plagiarism and discuss how to verify the primary or secondary nature of online resources. They cover authentic citations and explore an assortment of electronic resources on copyright issues. When is it okay to use a downloaded media clip? When can you insert an image you found on the Internet into a PowerPoint presentation? "They need to understand that sometimes it's okay and sometimes it's not," says Hall. "So we teach the rules. We look at the Fair Use Copyright Act, because even in the old days of print, lots of teachers never understood how much they could copy. Then, when we get to the Digital Rights Act, they have the historical context."

School districts must instruct educators about online resources for rooting out plagiarism.

Motivating Students and Educators

The Kent district actively encourages teachers to take the Untangling the Web class. One motivator is their Effective Education program, which pays new teachers for 21 hours of extra education in skill deficit areas, above and beyond the extra hours of state-sponsored professional development. Also, new teachers in the district are paired with mentor teachers, and mentors often make Untangling the Web an Effective Education assignment. But plenty of veteran teachers sign up, too. Hall tones down the complexity of the class when he pitches it to his staff, because he claims it "would freak teachers out." But once the class starts, instructors hear a lot of, "This is cool. I didn't know this existed."

Though there's no training for parents ("That's a growth area," says Hall), Kent provides plenty of training for students, specifically as a plagiarism unit in 9th and 10th grade English classes. It's in 9th grade that students start compiling material for Washington State's electronic portfolio graduation requirements, so they become invested early on in the concept of original work. They revisit the Acceptable Use copyright section, talk about responsible behaviors, and then discuss plagiarism. Refraining from plagiarism is framed as a matter of good citizenship, but teachers also make sure students know there are tools to scan for plagiarized material. "It's important, because the students believe they're more savvy about technology than their teachers," Hall says.

Practicality and ROI

Hall believes that what really makes the policy work is its emphasis on instructional practices. Lots of districts focus on copyright policy, fewer focus on the training, and fewer still tie copyright policy to instruction. Teachers want to know how to use technology to engage students and how resources can be used in practical and effective ways. Hall is also a big believer in district licensing. "I know not every district can afford it," he says, "but when you start to calculate the cost of monitoring licenses for compliance, I think CIOs underestimate the expense. The first time they're hit with a noncompliance suit, they'll say the district license would've been a bargain."

At Kent, staff and students understand that compliance isn't an option, it's the bottom line. "It's here to protect us all so that we can enjoy the benefits of our highly connected, resource-rich instructional environment," Hall says.

Copy from Kent

  1. Have a clear policy and an effective way to communicate it.
  2. Make sure your training process is tiered and based on levels of understanding.
  3. Devise practical ways to tie copyright solutions to instruction.
  4. Consider district software licenses.
  5. Learn about other districts' best practices, adapt them to your district, and cite the source.

Web Resources

Kent Board Policy

Kent's Electronic Use Form

Untangling the Web

Ivy Run: Rights for Educators

In the largely predigital world of the mid-1980s, the worst copyright violation usually involved the copy machine. The Internet has changed all that. You might say this is the mantra of Karen Richardson, a former classroom teacher who now runs an educational technology consulting business specializing in copyright workshops. For the past five years Richardson's Ivy Run has conducted training sessions for the Virginia Department of Education, the College of William and Mary, and several Virginia regional consortiums and school districts, plus the occasional out-of-state workshop.

Educating Teachers

Richardson's primary goal is to instruct teachers about fair use and their rights as educators, including details of the Fair Use Act, the criteria they have to meet, and the circumstances under which they're exempt from requiring permission. "It's an interesting area," says Richardson. "We tend to think of it as this set-in-stone rule, with concrete laws saying exactly what you're allowed to do, but it's very much an ongoing dialogue." Her workshops typically cover such common use areas as multimedia and Web publishing. Districts want their teachers to know how they can stay legal yet still maintain access to the resources, and that's Richardson's focus.

Richardson's secondary goal is to provide classroom teachers with instruction on how to design assignments that discourage plagiarism. For this, she employs a mixture of traditional and digital age practices. For a unit on the Oregon Trail, for instance, she suggests that following their research and group discussions, students write a journal entry about what they've learned instead of the more common report, which lends itself more easily to plagiarism from Internet sources.

Keeping it Specific

Richardson knows engagement is key, so her workshops incorporate compelling copyright examples. She tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he had to do to get back the rights to his "I Have a Dream" speech. She also introduces the concept of public domain. "Yellowstone National Park has a section on its site where photographs are in the public domain and available for use without permission," says Richardson. She introduces trainees to free archived Internet music, shareware, and freeware alternatives to making illegal copies of expensive applications and creative commons licenses.

"Technology evolves and the questions evolve," says Richardson. It's what she finds fascinating about the field. "Now, with TiVo's growing popularity and new iPod transfer capability, there are even more gray areas to consider."

Richardson emphasizes that many of the rules pertaining to copyright are actually guidelines, not written into law. The guidelines convey what to do if you want to feel comfortable. The ten-second rule is a good example. People know you're allowed to copy ten seconds of a three-minute song, but that's a guideline, not a law on the books. "We're interested in what supports the curriculum. We're not fighting for the rights to show Disney movies every Friday afternoon," says Richardson. "What I want is for teachers to understand they have rights to use materials beyond just what's in the textbook."

Copy from Ivy Run

  1. Keep copyright training sessions engaging and relevant.
  2. Teach educators acceptable alternatives to copyright infringement.
  3. Help teachers design assignments that discourage students from engaging in plagiarism.

Web Resources

Ivy Run

Creative Commons Deed

Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center

Groton Schools: Policy and Support

Mary Crompton's Groton Connecticut School District is technologically savvy. As director of media services and instructional technology, she oversees 15 schools serving 5,500 students. That includes school computer labs, classroom laptops and desktops (Mac and PC), and hardwired and wireless connections. To manage potential infringement, Groton has established a scrupulous copyright policy for staff and students, and it backs up that policy with workshops, resources, and financial support.

Groton underlines its commitment to copyright by posting its copyright policy and other resources on the district Web site. Included is a 23-page pamphlet geared toward educators ("Copyright Condensed," by Heartland Area Education Agency II) as well as its own comprehensive Copyright Implementation Manual. No signatures are required from staff or students to prove they've read these materials, but the community knows they're there and that the district expects full compliance.

Districts can help protect themselves by formalizing copyright codes of conduct for teachers and students alike.

Early Awareness

The spotlight was first trained on copyright when Groton installed a district-wide Internet connection some ten years ago and realized this expanded access was bound to raise a host of new digital-era issues.

The district brainstormed a list of every policy that might be needed under the circumstances, and copyright emerged a top priority. "The Internet was just beginning to flourish," Crompton says, "so people were copying CDs, copying disks, and copying off the Internet. We realized we could get into big trouble if we didn't do something." The solution was to create Internet, copyright, and material selection policies.

After establishing the policies, the district put together the Copyright Implementation Manual and then delivered the content via staff development workshops. "We wanted to get across that this district is very, very rigorous about adhering to the policy," says Crompton. Groton does not allow teachers to copy materials, either in hard copy or off the Web, and it doesn't allow them to copy movies, either. The manual explains topics like the video policy in depth. Teachers can use a taped TV program in their classroom if it relates to curriculum. They can show it once and one more time within a ten-day period, and then they have to erase the tape. That's rigorous enforcement.

Staff Support

But Groton is equally serious about supporting teachers, and it does so by allocating a good portion of its budget to resources enabling digital instruction. The PTO, for example, has purchased a public performance site license to let teachers show certain movies. "That's not cheap," says Crompton.

Groton administrators have also committed to ongoing staff training. Connecticut requires teachers to earn 15 hours of Continuing Education units every five years, so teachers are encouraged to take copyright workshops. There are also regional consortiums and online workshop options or issue-driven talks Crompton sometimes leads with teachers at principals' requests. Video is a popular topic of discussion, as is the issue of sharing software.

As with many other copyright- and security-aware districts, Groton has a strict policy on software. "We have the computers locked down so tightly no one can load anything," Crompton says. "But when we first implemented technology, it was like the Wild West. They could load anything and everything they wanted." Now, if an educator wants to install software, it must be approved by a committee and be useful and available districtwide to get acceptance.

New Literacy for Students

The students' training is no less rigorous, with increasingly sophisticated copyright instruction delivered K-12. One strand focuses on the ethical use of technology, and students are taught both their obligations and their rights. Plagiarism receives a strong emphasis from 7th grade on.

To help the high school students maintain their fledgling code of ethics, Groton subscribes to TurnItIn, an affordable software license that allows teachers to process student writing through a plagiarism engine. Students are required to submit their papers electronically. TurnItIn screens the work, and any plagia-rized material is highlighted in different colors to identify different Internet sources. "We've had that for about four years, and the teachers love it," says Crompton. "We tell the students, so there's no kidding around, no games. It's very successful."

Training Tips

For districts devising their own copyright programs, Crompton says to keep it simple and rigorous. Simplicity is key because the distinctions can get confusing, especially when it comes to text. "You can take this many lines, but not that many, you can make this many copies, but not that many. Teachers get frustrated when you rattle off ridiculous figures," Crompton says. She made a PowerPoint presentation to clarify the aspects and characteristics of Fair Use, then appealed to her teachers' sense of fair play. She stressed their responsibility to the district, to themselves, and to teaching children. Crompton also mentions districts who've been sued and the negative example that sets for all.

Finally, she emphasizes the district's responsibility to its teachers. "It's important to remember the other side of the coin," Crompton says. "The district has to support teachers by providing them with the resources and materials they need." When they don't, Crompton believes, they're far more responsible for plagiarism than the teacher.

Copy from Groton

  1. Keep copyright rules broad and straightforward. Too much detail will be confusing and difficult to retain.
  2. Keep the training rigorous.
  3. Keep the teachers well supplied with resources so they don't need to plagiarize in order to teach.
  4. Appeal to teachers' sense of honor and fair play.

Web Resources

Groton Media Policies

Groton's Copyright Implementation Manual

Copyright Condensed

Public Performance Site License

TurnItIn Plagiarism Tool


Stephanie Gold is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

Visit www.techlearning.com/copyrightguide.



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