How to avoid going to jail…

Copyright law as it pertains to what students use in their creative media is something I really should know, given my educational history and the teaching position I’m in, but I am sadly lacking in this area. I know that creative rights protect each person’s work from being stolen and published by another person as their own. I know that some people choose to publish their work under a Creative Commons license that helps to clarify if/how the work can be reused by people who find it online. I even understand how to differentiate between the six different types of licenses at Creative Commons.

However, other than playing whatever creative commons video I happen to find online for my students, I don’t feel like I have a satisfactory method of teaching them about this important aspect of digital media creation. I feel like I don’t really know the answers to their questions: Because they are students, are they allowed to use any photo they find online in their Photoshop projects? Can they use popular music they have purchased in iTunes on their videos they turn in to me? Can I be legally held accountable for their copyright infringement if it is on a project they complete for my class?

Ideally, I’d like a good source for information regarding multimedia copyright as it pertains to students and a program for delivery of that information that is engaging, detailed enough to be useful, and simple enough to be understood by the layman (high school student…) I know that is a tall order, but there it is!

8 thoughts on “How to avoid going to jail…”

  1. Keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer, my understanding is you cannot be held responsible for copyright violations by students. In part because the responsibility doesn’t generally flow “upstream” and because, in essence, when it comes to in-class (whether in the physical classroom or virtually), behind closed doors uses, your students (and you!) have practically free reign. There’s a reason there have been no successful prosecutions of teachers (and almost no attempts) even in relatively overt cases such as where teachers have been distributing physical copies of copyrighted sheet music.

    When shared in the open, the calculus changes, but generally as long as the work is in the (and presented in an) educational context, teachers and students still have very wide latitude for Fair Use, generally much more than they think and more than they exercise. In fact, my experience in K-20 education is that the big problem is teachers and learners alike not exercising their rights and making fair use when they can because they—the teachers especially—operate in a fear-based culture.

    If you find a way of fulfilling your “tall order” let me know. I haven’t found such a resource (that I trust and is delivering a balanced viewpoint) yet. I link to some resources in this Collection but they aren’t (mostly) the kind of thing that students will get into…

    1. That is all good info for me. I especially agree that educators who know a little tend to operate in a “fear-culture” concerning copyright if they think about it at all. I’ve found that many of the faculty at my school aren’t at all concerned about even blatant infringement because they aren’t thinking of it. I often allow students to use copyrighted material in their creative works for my classes as long as that part of the project isn’t the main focus that they are supposed to be learning to create themselves. I try to caution them that if they use someone else’s media then their project has to basically stay “in-house” and they shouldn’t post it online, but I know some of them have disregarded that advice and I wondered what the ramifications of that might be, if any.

        1. This screencast you created is EXCELLENT! Not something I would sit my high school students in front of to watch, but great info for me as an educator. If I ever have teachers asking me questions about copyright I think I’ll likely send them to this video. Thanks!

  2. Your title drew me in! As a musician and a teacher I would like to know more about copyright as well. I have heard what of what Prof. Lott is saying before – that as long as what you are using is in an educational context and not for profit, it generally is ok to use images and music.
    I actually know a bit more about church music copyright since I have worked as a music director for several years. It’s actually quite convenient some of the systems that are in place for the use of music. The churches that I have worked for use CCLI, which encompasses a lot of Christian music under one copyright license, for one yearly fee.

    I’ll be interested to learn what you discover!

    1. The title is a little facetious, as I don’t really believe that I’d be headed to jail for putting copyrighted music on a video and then posting it online, but I’m glad the shock-value of it encouraged you to comment on the post. One of the music sites that is big on Creative Commons is Jamendo. In the past I’ve used them as a place to find music for videos, but now they are asking for a subscription specifically if the music is going to be downloaded for videos, although they apparently allow songs to be downloaded for personal use free-of-charge. The new system seems like it might be a little like CCLI, but for YouTubers instead of churches.

  3. I’m not a lawyer either, but my understanding is IP law lives in tort, or the civil, realm. As far as I know, there are no criminal penalties for infringement–only monetary. For the injured party (copyright holder) to pursue a tort against an alleged infringer, she must prove duty, breach, damage and causation. Did the defendant have a legal duty to do or not do something? Did the defendant breach that duty? Did the plaintiff suffer damages? Are those damages directly and causally connected to the breach of duty? Failure to prove any one element means no tort occurred. I think that we can agree one has a duty to not steal (or borrow or fail to attribute) another’s intellectual works. But how are damages going to be proven AND quantified? What did the copyright holder’s lose and can the value of that loss be converted to dollars? In the digi-verse that seems nearly impossible unless every intellectual work is secured against viewing, use or copying. If that were the case, would there even be a worldwide web?

    I agree with Chris that as instructors Fair Use is pretty broad. However, it doesn’t hurt to practice diligent CYA (cover your rear) by citing authors and attributing ownership of works you have used in an educational context.

    1. Absolutely. Which is also where ethical behavior practically demands things (clear, linked-where-possible attribution, etc) that aren’t required by law.

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