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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Some Thoughts On Copyright

One thing I've found recently is that there seems to be some confusion among my teachers and students as to the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. After attending Josh Mika's (Naperville #203) breakout session on Open Educational Resources, I thought I would try to clarify and provide some places for teachers and students to find material with looser permissions.

Plagiarism, as defined by, is passing off someone else's words as your own or using someone else's material without crediting them. It's a form of fraud and theft. There are several different ways plagiarism is committed:

1. Pretending someone else's idea is yours.
2. Not citing a source.
3. Not putting a quotation in quotes and crediting the person who said it.
4. Not giving the right information about a source.
5. Changing a few words here and there, but leaving the essentials the same.
6. Overdoing the quoting. Using so many quotes, you may as well have photocopied the source.

Those examples of plagiarism may or may not violate copyright law depending on the material used and the restrictions placed on the original work.

Copyright is a legal protection offered by the federal government to original works. These days, you do not have to file for federal copyright to be protected, although it makes suing a lot easier if you're registered. Any original work is automatically protected under federal copyright law. But, you say, I'm a teacher! Don't I get fair I can use anything I want as long as I'm not making money off of it?

Well, sort of. Fair use is a legal defense, not a law. So, basically, it comes into effect once you've been given a cease and desist letter or a subpoena. It's better to avoid both. Fair use has its basis in common practice in court. Out of that comes some general questions to ask about each creation you plan to use:

1. Is it for nonprofit educational use?
2. What are you using?
3. How much of it are you using?
4. Would it impact the market value?

If you feel any conscience twinges when asking yourself any one those four questions, get permission first. Better permission sooner than lawsuit later, is my opinion. Or find something in the public domain to substitute. If you have any concerns or questions about whether what you're using could be breaking the law (like showing Brave for indoor recess - bad idea), ask your friendly neighborhood librarian and she or he will be able to help you decide the best course of action.

Josh Mika has a wonderful wiki linking many OER sites as well as some digital books on how to incorporate ethical use of original works in your instruction and in student projects. Visit his wiki, Beyond4Walls and click on the DuKane link for wonderful resources.