Copyright and plagiarism have always been ideas I only have a basic understanding of, and I honestly have never really taken the time to learn more about it. I always thought to myself, “I teach first grade. They will learn it later from upper grades. It is not really something that is necessary to teach in depth at this age level.” I think this stemmed from the fact that I really didn’t want to do the work to learn more about it, and because it really is such a confusing and difficult thing to understand. Because of this ignorance in my thinking, the only kind of instruction on this topic I have done up to this point is teaching my kids how to do basic citations during our non-fiction writing unit. Another result of my ignorance was simply allowing my students to Google any images and use them for the creation of their slideshows, posters, digital stories, etc. without checking for permissions or giving any attribution to the creators. And if I’m really honest, I have not always been modeling this well either with the creation of my own classroom materials or posters.

An anchor chart I made for helping my students cite their sources.

This week I have been diving into reading and learning all about copyright laws, fair use, and creative commons licensing and it has really expanded my thinking. Doing this has made me realize how important it is to be informed about it as an educator for my personal use, and that it is also essential to share it with my students even starting in first grade. Looking into this also made me think that if I’m lacking this essential knowledge as an educator, I’m sure there are many others at my school and all over the world that also lack in this area as well. I’m not exactly sure of how to fix that problem on a large scale, but I know I can start by sharing the main points of what I have learned about it so far with my colleagues and peers. Here are a few key concepts described with a little text and some videos to help you become more knowledgable about it:

Copyright- Copyright was essentially created to help protect the creators of content from their work being stolen by others without their knowledge. You can copyright things like books, plays, music, dance, movies, songs, pictures, etc. Here is an article from the Library of Congress that gives more detail about the basics of copyright in the United States. Historically, the length of time of a copyright started at 14 years and has now greatly exceed that with some even being as long as the life of the author +120 years. That seems a bit overkill to me. That being said, due to our ever-changing world of technology and easy access to information, I personally think we need to rethink copyright on a global scale. Check out this humorous and informative video to learn more about it.

Fair Use- This legal term makes it so that copyrighted material to be reproduced without getting permission from the creator or paying a legal fee. But, this is where it gets a little tricky. Fair use is only applicable when the content is used for certain purposes; school work and education, news reporting, criticizing or commenting, and comedy or parody. There are also specific guidelines that must be followed to fall under fair use called the four points of fair use. This video takes full advantage of fair use and is well worth the watch to learn more about it.

Public Domain- Once a copyright’s term is over, the work is then released into the public domain. This basically means that it is free for anyone to use without permission and it is no longer owned by anyone. Just for fun, and because I just love The Late Late Show with James Cordon, here is a video of James and Josh Groban singing songs in the public domain.

Creative Commons- Creative Commons licenses are basically free copyright licenses that allow creators to choose how they would like their works to be used. There are 6 different levels of license ranging from very open permissions to the most restrictive. The Creative Commons website lists the license options and explains them in more detail. Here is a video that explains it much better than I could.

Ok so the question is, what does all this mean for us as educators and how do we teach it to our students even lower elementary? In The Right Stuff: Teaching Kids About Copyright by Tara Woodall she states,

Teachers simply need to teach some key concepts, share some tools, and model digital citizenship in terms of copyright explicitly in the classroom.

I agree that this is exactly what we need to do. Start by teaching the basics of copyright using the key concepts I listed above; copyright, fair use, public domain, and creative commons. Teachers and students should have knowledge of their meaning and how it applies to them in the classroom. Of course, the amount of understanding needed will vary, but all grades should be aware of it at a developmentally appropriate level. In order to teach this to our students effectively there are lots of resources out there to help such as Common Sense Education, Teaching Copyright by the Electronic Media Foundation, Brain Pop, or by simply searching Youtube for videos like the ones on this list that would work for students at different grade levels.

We also need to share some tools to help our students become successful when when searching out information and learning to site it appropriately. When we teach students how to site their sources this can be a tedious task, especially for lower elementary. Thankfully the amazing Technology and Innovation Coach at my school and former Coetailer, Tanya LeClair, made this awesome poster for kids to have quick access to sites that search images with Creative Commons 0 licenses or that are more easily citable. I actually haven’t used it with my class yet, but now that I actually understand what it all means, I absolutely will.

The last, but certainly not least important thing we need to do as educators is model it. This article by Silvia Tolisano gives teachers some resources and a flow chart to help us make decisions about using different types of media in our classrooms so we can effectively model good digital citizenship for our students.  In The Right Stuff, Woodall shares some powerful words on this topic as well.

When you use images in your lessons, make sure you go with images that you have the permission to use. Ensure that the correct attribution is visible. Draw students’ attention to the fact that you’re a good digital citizen. Perhaps most important, throughout the year point out that you struggled to find the right image but were happy to do the right thing…Never lose sight of the goal. This is about more than images in schoolwork. This is about citizenship and doing the right thing.

So teachers, let’s do what we do best, model doing the right thing in all areas of life and teach our students to do the same.