The Basics of Copyright Law
In its simplest terms, copyright is the U.S. government’s way of protecting the rights of anyone creating an original work, such as a play, song, poem, book, or artwork. Only the work’s original author or creator can make copies, distribute, sell, perform or adapt that work. Originally passed into law 35 years ago, the Copyright Act of 1976 has undergone many changes in the wake of advancing technology, including such changes as categorizing any work on the Internet as “published” (Copyright Act of 1976). Of
Thibault, N. 3 particular interest to educators is the “fair use” doctrine, which extends a get-out-of-jail-free card (so to speak) to anyone using copyrighted works for purposes of teaching, research, or scholarly criticism (Copyright Act of 1976). While the fair use doctrine would seem to offer teachers a free-for-all with copyrighted resources, there is still some debate about what specific kinds of activities are protected under this clause (Nguyen, 2010). In general, fair use is determined by four factors: (1) the nature of the work, (2) the purpose of the copied work (i.e. for profit or not), (3) the relative portion of the work being used, and (4) the effect of the copy on the works’ market value (Bartrom, 2009).
To further clarify how teachers should respond to copyright and fair use laws, Hobbs (2009) and her colleagues worked extensively to create a five-principle Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, which was adopted by many educational organizations, including the National Council for the Teachers of English. The code specifies what teachers can do “under some circumstances” and was developed in conjunction with video case studies that showcase teachers using copyrighted materials in creative ways (p2).
Barriers to Compliance with Copyright Law
In spite of the resources available to them, teachers often are not aware of how the nuances of copyright and fair use laws apply to them or their students. Even teachers who are aware of copyright laws fail to comply for other reasons, such as budget-saving needs or ignorance as to how to obtain copyright permissions. Butler (2008) reports that the technology at teachers’ fingertips makes copyright infringement all too easy and may even contribute to their overall laissez-faire attitude toward
Thibault, N. 4 copyright infringement. Ease of copying resources makes it easy to forget about the legal implications, she reports, and librarians are often the only formally-trained “copyright experts” (p66).
Complying With and Enforcing Copyright Law
Regardless of the barriers, or excuses, educators face in complying with copyright laws, they have a legal and ethical responsibility to do so. Aside from the obvious need for teachers to be morally upstanding, law-abiding citizens, teachers are legally-bound to their state’s academic standards, which include technology expectations