Teachers and students must consider copyright in digital age

Teachers and students must consider copyright in digital age

(Ind.) As more digital content is used in the classroom by both students and teachers, experts in education technology say there needs to also be a rise in concern over intellectual property and copyright violations.

According to Diana Gill, a technology coach for East Porter County School Corporation in Indiana, it is important that educators do more than simply search for an image online and drop it into their lessons. In fact, it is vital that teachers understand how to identify the license on a piece of content and properly attribute it, and that they pass that knowledge on to students who have grown up in an era where it is commonplace to illegally download music, movies and other content.

“Respecting intellectual property is something our students need to learn and value before leaving our classrooms, but we can’t support them until we do it ourselves,” Gill wrote in a blog post for eSchool News. “As more of our content is pushed out to students through online platforms, our responsibility to consider copyright as part of our planning process.”

It is incredibly easy to infringe upon a copyright, even without intending to do so, and fines for violating a copyright can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Earlier this year, for instance, a photographer filed a suit against the University of Houston after the school used one of his photos on their website. The university has since taken the photo down.

Since 2017, districts in Colorado, New York and Iowa have been sued or settled lawsuits related to copyright infringement.

As part of a $59,600 settlement between Toledo Public Schools and an Ohio-based publishing company in 2012, the district also agreed to buy $38,400 worth of books from the company, pay its $11,200 mileage costs for consulting services, and pay $10,000 for the company’s attorney fees. The district also had to acknowledge and apologize for the use of the company’s guidance material to help schools meet the Common Core State Standards.

In a notice to local education agencies, attorney Joseph Roselle wrote on behalf of the New Jersey School Boards Association in 2016 that more districts are receiving notices that images have been used on school websites or in lesson plans without proper compensation to the copyright holder–which is a violation of the law.

In defense of using copyrighted materials, schools often cite “fair use,” which allows teachers to make limited use of a copyright-protected work for educational purposes, but there are limitations. Posting material on a publicly-available website, even if for educational purposes, is likely to constitute infringement, according to Roselle.

While if a teacher were to use a cartoon of a character such as Bart Simpson in a daily lesson one time, for instance, that use may be permitted he said. Using the same cartoon in the lesson year after year, however, may constitute a possible infringement even if the material is easily accessible online.

Roselle notes that simply because an image, a passage from a book or a video is online, such works may not be freely used by others–and simple attribution to the source material does not, itself, guarantee that the work may be used without permission from the copyright holder.

Yet even understanding how to properly attribute material found online, like a photograph, is a foundational skill that students and teachers must know, Gill said.

She recommends educators get into the habit of locating the licensing information for each image used in their lessons, and citing the title, author, source and license for each. Gill also called for teachers to work the process of searching for licenses and attributing works to the original creator into their lesson plans, as students may need those skills as they begin careers in digitally driven workplaces where they both create and use other people’s content.