What Do You Mean COPYRIGHT Does Not Mean I Have the Right to Copy?

A few years ago a sixth grade student came up to me and asked, “I really like that CD Explorers of the New World. Can I take it home this weekend and make a copy? I will bring it back on Monday.â€

I responded by saying, “No, you can’t do that.â€
He said, “Oh sure I can. I have a CD burner!â€
“No, that’s not what I meant,†I replied. “You MAY NOT copy the CD. It is copyrighted.â€
“I know,†he answered.
“What do you think I mean when I say, “copyrighted?†I asked.
“I have the right to copy it,†he confidently replied.

What a surprise to hear directly from one of my students that he blatantly copies copyrighted CD’s, but does this thinking he has the “right†to do so. He was totally unaware that he was engaging in software piracy. Financial losses from worldwide piracy amounted to $13 billion in 2002 and many of the pirates are teens who trade software, movies and music online. They find that engaging in pirating activities is fast, cheap and most of the time can be done anonymously. The legal consequences can be devastating, since three American industry organizations (the Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA], the Software and Information Industry Association [SIIA] and the Recording Industry of American [RIAA]) now employ large numbers of people to track down Web sites that trade pirated materials (Hatcher 2002). Not only are those running illegal Web sites taken to justice, now we are beginning to see individual users of such Web sites taken to court. For example, in New York a 12 year-old girl was sued by the recording industry for illegally downloading software from an unauthorized Web site (Kruger, 2003).

I felt that if my student did not understand the legal and economic issues involved in his actions, then probably many of my elementary school students were unaware of these issues, too. I decided that I should discuss this problem with our school’s technology committee with the recommendation that we add copyright and fair use topics to the cyber awareness lessons we give to our students each October in celebration of Computer Learning Month. We began cyber safety lessons in the year 2000 after I attended a Cyber Safety and Ethics conference at Marymount University, but the lessons primarily address how to be safe while using the Internet.

I began to search for instructional materials that would help me present copyright and fair use issues in a manner that elementary age students would understand. A member of our technology committee saw such materials geared for elementary students advertised in Weekly Reader. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) created the Play It CyberSafe materials for elementary and middle school-age students. The curriculum, available for download, is widely used by parents and teachers to assist in conversations about responsible cyber behavior. Co-produced by children’s publisher Weekly Reader, the curriculum was first distributed last year to schools nationwide and is anticipated to reach more than seven million kids, parents and teachers by the end of 2004.

I used these materials for the first time last school year (2002-2003) with my students in grades three through six. I found that the students who made the best connections to the copyright and fair use concepts presented in those lessons were fifth and sixth grade students because those students were the ones telling me that they were actively involved in file sharing activities. So this school year, I restructured my Computer Learning Month activities to focus primarily on Cyber Safety issues in grades three and four, and in grades five and six we focused on the Copyright and Fair Use lessons.

Purpose of the Study

This paper will address the cyber ethics initiatives that involved our fifth and sixth grade students and what I learned about their understandings and perceptions related to copyright and fair use. The initiatives were evaluated as a part of a teacher research project that I began in September 2003. This project was designed to systematically collect and analyze data related to what students know, understand and consider most important related to cyber ethics. The data also helped to determine planning ideas for future Computer Learning Month activities.

To structure the project, I discussed my goals with colleagues on our school’s teacher research team. They helped me develop the following research questions:

  1. What do elementary-aged children know about copyright and fair use laws?
  2. What do elementary-aged children want to know and need to know about these issues?
  3. What do the parents of elementary-aged children consider important enough to address with their children at home related to cyber ethics issues?
  1. The people who are involved in creating new software such as the creator, programmer, manufacturer, retailer, and the people who buy the software known as consumers.
  2. What is meant by a licensing agreement and copyright documentation found in software packages?
  3. What is meant by intellectual property and software piracy?
  4. What is meant by ethical behavior?

As a follow-up to this introductory lesson, I asked each student to write on an index card one question that they would like to ask the assembly speaker, Mr. Bob Kruger, Vice-President of Enforcement for BSA. He is a lawyer and also a parent of a fifth grade child. I used these cards to determine what interested the students most about this topic, and to also help identify specific questions that we could use to generate audience interaction with the speaker.

Index Card Questions

The questions the students wrote were varied and fascinating. It appeared that most of the students’ questions fell into the following themes and categories:

1)Burning CD’s:

  • Combining songs from CD’s into one CD
  • Making back-up CD’s
  • Creating CD’s for friends
  • Using CD burners

2)Using File-Sharing Sites:

  • Which sites are legal to use for downloading music?
  • Which Web sites are illegal to use for downloading music and games?

3)Legal Consequences:

  • How are people caught doing something illegal?
  • What happens when you get caught doing something that is illegal?

4)Clarification of Terms:

  • Intellectual Property
  • Copyright

The vast majority of the questions were from the first two themes: burning CD’s and using file-sharing sites. Students in both grades wanted to know how they can use CD burners without getting into trouble and they also wanted to know what would happen if they are caught pirating software. Would they really put “kids†in jail, many asked? Sixth grade students were more interested than fifth grade students in how “pirates†are detected by law enforcement authorities. A few students wanted to know more about the terms they had heard from the introductory lesson.

Intellectual property, fair use



were mentioned most often.

Examples of Questions from Fifth Grade Students

  1. If you take songs from different CD’s and burn one CD for yourself, is that illegal?
  2. If I make a CD of songs from Kazaa, is that illegal?
  3. How do people get caught downloading things illegally from the Internet?
  4. Can you burn a software CD as a backup, just in case you lose your first copy?
  5. How can you tell if you are downloading from a legitimate Web site?
  6. Why is it illegal to make a copy of a CD that you own?
  7. Is it illegal if someone burns his own game on to CD’s and sells them to his friends and then makes them available for download on the Internet? Would it be bad to download software on your computer but then go and buy the CD and keep the CD for yourself and not sell it to anyone else?
  8. What percentage of the CD’s that are sold are illegal copies?
  9. What are the consequences if someone copies a commercially produced CD? Also, what exactly does copyright and fair use mean?

Examples of Questions from Sixth Grade Students

  1. Is it OK to download music from different CD’s and put them together for only you and not sell them?
  2. Can I burn a copy of a CD and give it to my friend— as long as I don’t make money from it?
  3. If burning games on CD’s is so bad, why were CD burners created?
  4. Is there such a thing as a legal way to burn a CD?
  5. If you get permission from the creators, can you copy their disks?
  6. Is it legal to make back-up copies of your CD’s in case your computer crashes?
  7. How do Federal Law Enforcement Agents crack down on copyright infringements? How many people do they catch each year that copy and sell illegal software?
  8. What are the actual consequences of burning CD’s and making money from it?
  9. What does intellectual property mean?
  10. What do patent workers really do? How does a copyright work?

When planning the assembly with representatives from BSA, we thought it would also be interesting to see what parents of sixth grade students think about our cyber safety and cyber ethics initiatives at our school. We surveyed those parents because their children would have received cyber safety awareness lessons each October for the past three years. We wanted to find out what parents talk about with their children at home related to those issues, as well as determine what they feel we should be addressing at school. The survey was sent home with the 124 sixth grade students following the introductory lesson (Appendix C). The survey questions asked:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Parent Web sites
  • Child’s school information that we have published in our school newsletter
  • Work policies
  • Any other resources

Seventy-five of the 124 students (60%) returned the survey with their parents’ responses. Fifty-eight parents (77%) said they have discussed downloading or copying music or software with their children. Fifty-one parents (68%) felt they have adequate information about copyright protection to teach their children about appropriate practices regarding Internet downloading of music and software. Forty-four parents (59%) said they use resources such as newspaper articles to help them better understand copyright, fair use and digital piracy issues. Other resources parents have used are parenting Web sites — 18 parents (24%); information sent home by the school — 31 parents (41%); and work policy literature — 25 parents (33%). Twenty-five parents (33%) said they got other resources from TV news and other family members.

When asked how they feel about our school’s efforts to address cyber safety and copyright and fair use laws, parents were very positive about the initiatives. The responses were coded and broken into three themes and sub-categories as noted in Table 2.


Themes from Parent Surveys

Theme One

Pleased with school’s efforts

Theme Two

Connections between home and school

Theme Three

Economic and Social Ramifications

Category 1

Lack of Knowledge

Two parents admitted that they do not know what is and what is not legal to do in terms of downloading and copying software. No one mentioned not knowing anything about cyber safety. However, six parents indicated that they had not heard anything about any of the school’s efforts to address cyber safety or cyber ethics before the survey came home alerting them to such a program.

Category 2

Desire for more information

Twenty parents said they applaud the school’s efforts and they want to learn more from the school about the cyber safety and cyber ethics issues.

Category 1

Parents learning from their children

Two parents indicated that they learned about cyber safety and cyber ethics directly from their children.

Category 2

Open communication at home

Three parents indicated that they discuss these issues openly at home with their children. Two parents stated that they limit and/or restrict their children’s Internet use.

Category 1

Acknowledgement of the legal impacts of cyber crimes

Eighteen parents mentioned the importance of teaching children about the legal ramifications of software piracy. Nineteen parents specifically mentioned that children should be made aware of Internet dangers and what to do to avoid such dangers.

Category 2

Acknowledgement of the economic impacts of cyber crimes

Three parents mentioned the importance of teaching children about the impact on the economy from software piracy.

Specific Parent Comments

Listed below are some of the comments made by parents on the survey. These comments indicate a high degree of pleasure that we are addressing cyber safety and cyber ethics issues and tell why they think this is important: “We are pleased that DPES is tackling the issue. The Internet is very enticing and the rules and ethics are not always clear. The safety issues are especially important for children of this age. I have learned a few things about Cyber Safety from my child that had not occurred to me!â€

“We think the school has taken the right step with this kind of survey. Internet security is very important as a proper guidance- teach students early in their lives- will save them from crimes. Music and video downloading is equally dangerous as it is a crime to steal. Good efforts from the school- we are happy.â€

“All information related to Cyber Safety and compliance with the law is welcomed. We promote the use of copyrighted applications to eliminate the risk by a child trying to share music online, such as Juke Box.â€

“I think DPES has an active and progressive program with regard to Cyber Safety and copyright and fair use laws. This survey is a testament to that statement. Additionally, I feel DPES is taking the correct measures to ensure my child knows the risks associated with the copyright laws propagated by the advent of the Internet.â€

“The lessons on Cyber Safety and Copyright and fair use laws seem quite thorough although I have not attended parent information meetings. I have read information sent home from school. Additionally, my husband is in federal law enforcement and we discuss obeying the law with regard to downloading.â€

“I’m glad that you discuss Cyber Safety. We recently went to high speed Internet and our children have a lot more access than in the past. The timing of this is great in our home. We have a CD burner and also have already talked about copyright laws.â€

“I believe there should be more information given to all our children concerning Cyber Safety, Internet copyright and fair use laws, and security at home and school. It is important that children learn that viruses, computer worms and Trojan horses are often hidden in pictures on the Internet. When children or adults download pictures, they could be downloading a virus (worms). Children need to learn that the computer hacking laws (passed by our Congress lately) have gotten tougher on persons who intentionally damage personal, state, federal or private industries’ computers. Computer security and Cyber Safety is very important to our National Security. What we would like to know, are your school’s computers protected by a firewall?â€

Making the Connection

Activity 2, Making the Connection from the Play It CyberSafe materials geared for grades 6-8 was then given to fifth and sixth grade students before the BSA assembly (Appendix D). This “Game Show†lesson actively involved the students in a role-play situation that addressed the following points:

  • Illegal downloading, copying or buying counterfeit software
  • When software is purchased from authorized dealers, purchasers accept the licensing agreement that comes with the software telling how the software can be used.
  • Generally the purchaser is permitted to install the software only on one computer, unless otherwise stated in the licensing agreement.

After Activity 2’s lesson, students asked me several questions, particularly regarding the use of home CD burners. One common question asked in almost every class that I visited was, “If using CD burners to copy programs for your friends is so illegal, why do they make CD burners and put them in computers?†I was very glad for the chance to talk about the appropriate use of CD burners to back up files and creative work that we all create such as stories, images we take with out digital cameras, home movies we make with video cameras and so forth. However, a number of students mentioned that they have, or know of, family members and friends who have used CD burners to make copies of games or music from commercially produced CD’s.

The Assembly

Bob Kruger used a PowerPoint presentation along with the student questions we had chosen from the index cards to guide his presentation. He began with the concept of copyright by answering a sixth grade student’s question on how copyright works. “Did you know that whatever you create can be protected under the copyright laws without your having to fill out a lot of paperwork and going through a lot of legal steps?†Kruger said. “Once your ideas are tangible, they are copyrighted.†He addressed another student’s question, “How long does a copyright last?†Kruger responded that it does not last forever, but expires 75 years after the death of the creator.â€

“What is intellectual property?†another sixth grade student wanted to know. Kruger responded by saying that Intellectual Property comes out of a creative idea. Examples of intellectual property may be a book, movie, poem, song, painting, photograph or a software program. Then he asked the students, “Why do we want to protect intellectual property?†The discussion centered on the fact that creators want to protect their creative ideas so that they can get rewards for their hard work. Once a creator’s ideas become tangible as in a book, a movie, or a song, the creator decides how it can be distributed. This led into an explanation of licensing agreement. This “permission†document that is included in software packages tells how the creation can be specifically used. Some licensing agreements state that you can make a back-up copy of software, for example. In some cases a creator may say that the creation is ‘freeware’ which means it can be distributed without charge. Other creations that can be used without charge are “fair use†products. These may be parts of a book or an article that a teacher may want to use in the classroom.

Another student asked, “What happens when people break copyright laws?†Kruger answered by telling the students that someone can get arrested if caught pirating software or making available for download games and music from file-sharing sites that are unauthorized by the creators. Kruger then told the story of the 12-year-old girl who was sued by the recording industry for engaging in such activities. Kruger explained that BSA employs four fulltime people who do nothing but search the Internet each day looking for unauthorized file-sharing sites all over the world. These sites are reported to the authorities and now many people, including high school and college students, are being taken to court and they may face pretty heavy fines.

Several students then wanted to know how to find “legitimate†file-sharing sites. Kruger mentioned Apple Corporation’s Apple Music Store as one such site. This site gives people downloading rights by charging only 99 cents per song. Kruger ended his talk by talking about fair use laws. Specifically he talked briefly about using intellectual property in the classroom and directed students and their teachers to the Web site

Copyright Kids

to learn more.

Following his presentation to the students and teachers, Kruger introduced BSA’s Code of Cyber-Ethics designed to help students understand cyber ethics at an early age so they may make the right choices about appropriate Internet and computer behavior. He urged students to look for the copyright symbol on software programs and be able to explain to others why illegally copying software is not appropriate behavior.

When teachers and students returned to their classrooms, they discussed the Cyber Ethics Champion Code. A special Certificate of Recognition was then awarded to students who voluntarily agreed to be “Cyber Ethics Champions†by following the code (Appendix E).

Overall Findings

What Did Students Learn? What Do They Value?

To determine what the fifth and sixth grade students learned about copyright and fair use laws and what points were most of value to them during Computer Learning Month, students were asked to complete Activity 4, You’re In Charge from the

Play It CyberSafe

materials geared for grades 3-5 (Appendix D). This activity asked the students to share their knowledge of software theft by writing a letter to the principal, the editor-in-chief of a newspaper or a software company. We also gave them the option to write the letter to anyone else who they may care about. They were asked to include the legal, ethical and practical reasons why people should use legal software and games.

Two hundred and twenty-one of the 246 fifth- and sixth-grade students completed this activity and made their letters available for analysis. The first sort we did was to determine to whom the students wanted to write. Just about 38% of the fifth- and sixth-grade students chose to write to their best friends. However, 30% chose to write to their parents. 12% of the students wrote to the President of the United States and three students even wrote the letter to themselves as if they were “reminding†themselves about what they had learned. The rest of the students wrote to software companies, newspaper editors, and our school principal. The letters were divided into fifth- and sixth-grade levels and coded according to the points students made in the letters. These categories that emerged from the data analysis were then sorted into nine themes. Tables 3, 4 and 5 show the number of times students referred to points relating to those nine themes.


Showing an Understanding of Cyber Ethics Terms


Licensing Agreement


Intellectual Property

123 5th Graders




98 6th Graders




Total for both grades (221 letters)

51 or 23% of the letters contained references to this

74 or 33% of the letters contained references to this

24 or 10.8% of the letters contained references to this


Showing an Understanding of How Piracy Occurs


Downloading music, movies or games from Unauthorized Web Sites

Using CD Burners to copy commercially produced software

Installing Software in Violation of Licensing Agreements

123 5th Graders




98 6th Graders




Total for both grades (221 letters)

115 or 52% of the letters contained references to this

82 or 37.1% of the letters contained references to this

11 or 5% of the letters contained references to this


Showing an Understanding of Piracy Consequences


Legal Issues

Economic Issues

Obtaining Viruses

123 5th Graders




98 6th Graders




Total for both grades (221 letters)

75 or 34% of the letters contained references to this

138 or 62.4% of the letters contained references to this

49 or 22.1% of the letters contained references to this

Seventy-nine letters written by fifth-graders and 36 sixth-graders referred to downloading from unauthorized Web sites as illegal to do. That means that slightly more than half the 221 students (52%) felt this was an issue important enough to discuss in their letters. Eighty-two of the fifth- and sixth-grade students (37.1%) felt mentioning using CD burners to duplicate copy-righted CD’s was also important. Only 11 students (5%) talked about installing more than the licensed number of software copies on to computers. So it appears that illegally downloading and duplicating CD’s were the two top “warnings†students gave in their letters. Listed below are a few examples of what they wrote:

Dear Sam:

If you download games or programs that have been illegally copied, this can give your computer a virus that could seriously mess up your hard drive. If you buy illegally copied software, you can hurt people’s jobs. Also, if you buy illegally copied software, it’s like stealing from the company.

From Taylor

Taylor’s illustration that she drew on the back emphasizes the legal trouble one can get into if caught pirating software:

Dear Mom:

I went to a cyber assembly and I learned that downloading games off the Internet is sometimes bad. If you don’t follow the copyright laws you can get arrested. How do they find you, you ask? They go into your files and track down where you live! I also learned you can’t share video games with friends. If you do, the people who make the games won’t get paid and neither will the employees.

From Renee

Dear Frankie:

Today in computer lab I learned never to burn, copy, or do anything illegal on the computer like listen to shared music files from Kazaa or Napster. All of that is illegal, and you could be charged for doing any of this. When you burn, copy or listen to music from Kazaa or Napster, you’re stealing money from all the people who were involved in making the CD’s. So, now I know that I should never burn, copy or illegally do anything with a CD because it is all against the law.

From Kim

Dear Betsy:

You need to stop using Kazaa because it is illegal. When you download songs you are stealing from the producer. People are getting fined and going to jail because they are doing the same thing you are. You are causing people to lose their jobs because no one is buying their CD’s. They’re just downloading them for free off the Internet. I hope that you will think twice before you do this.

From Your Brother, Eric

As noted in these letters, students addressed both economic and legal ramifications for engaging in software piracy. A total of 138 (64.2%) of the students referred to the economic problems that occur such as loss of jobs. Another 75 students (34%) mentioned the legal issues that can occur. Most of the comments were in the form of warnings that people can go to jail or be fined. A total of 49 (22.1%) of the students also mentioned the danger of obtaining a virus from downloads or illegally copied software. This finding is critically important because as Mike Heffron, Online Center System Operations, Facilities and Security Manager for GE states:

Did students understand the terms ‘ethical behavior,’ ‘copyright,’ ‘intellectual property,’ ‘software piracy,’ and ‘manufacturer’s licensing agreement’ by the time we completed the Computer Learning Month initiatives? It is hard to say because only the terms ‘license agreement’ (23%), ‘copyright’ (33%) and ‘intellectual property’ (10.8%) were mentioned in correct and meaningful ways in the student letters. In a few instances we noticed that students confused the word ‘copyright’ with the word “download.†They would say something like ‘copyrighting it’ when referring to installing or downloading programs. However, as a whole, it appeared that the vast majority of students understood the legal and economic consequences of software piracy and for the most part chose people who they care about (family members and friends) to inform about the dangers of such illegal practices.

Thoughts for the Future

Because our students are at such impressionable ages, our technology committee members believe that the time we spend addressing cyber ethical issues is so critically important. My only hope is that our students will heed their own words and never engage in piracy practices- not because they might get caught, go to jail, be fined or get viruses- but because they want to do the right thing because doing so is the right thing to do.


Hatcher, Colin (2002).

Why you should care if your children are downloading pirated software, movies or music

. Retrieved November, 2003.

Heffron, Mike (2003).

Connection: Viruses and Peer-to-Peer File-sharing

. The I-Safe Times, 8, p.2

Kruger, Bob (2003, Oct. 14). Creativity and You. Assembly session at Deer Park Elementary School, Fairfax, VA.

Play It CyberSafe

Promoting a Safe and Legal Digital World

Cyber Ethics and Cyber Safety Presentations at Deer Park Elementary


Diane Painter