Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Copyright, Fair Use And Flipcharts

Attribution:Image: 'Copyright-Free Finger'www.flickr.com/photos/45936582@N00/8903078

A few of our teachers have been going back through their accumulated flipcharts and tidying them in preparation for our Promethean Centre of Excellence assessment. Now one of the goals of this assessment is to contribute to a repository of resources for other ACTIVboard users either by uploading their flipcharts to the Resource Section of the Promethean Planet website or providing links from our our School website. So, as I perused what is going up for assessment and discussed the finer details of the technical requirements (just what is snap-to-grid and why is it useful?), I wondered about the legal standing of images and other secondary content embedded into these files. Honestly, I actually think that most teachers don't even worry about copyright and intellectual property issues when they grab an useful pic, diagram or scan in a page from a much used textbook. And if they try to do the right thing, is their bibliographic style citations going to cut it?
Most of the time, what teachers and students do in terms of re-using other people's intellectual property is covered by the somewhat hard-to-pin-down concept of "fair use". That's fine within the four walls of the classroom - every time a child cuts out a celebrity pic for an art lesson, every time a newspaper article is cut to support a current events report, when a healthy food diagram is created using images printed from the web - "fair use" is presumed to be in play. This use of other people's photos, diagrams, logos, sounds, music and ideas in the pursuit of constructing learning within the school environment is fine because it doesn't get released out to the wider world.
But, as Will Richardson once said, "The web changes everything." As soon as schools access the world wide audience available via the internet, then the "fair use" idea is out the window. So, if we are going to contribute to potentially useful resources that are available to anyone who wishes to download them - then we'd better make sure that our use of other people's material is ethical. Treating the internet as a free digital material shopping mall is ignoring the rules that govern, (and while we might not agree with all of their intent) is a poor example for our students. We also know that ignorance is no defence for breaching other people's rights.
Two really good starting points for teachers to get a really good grasp are these articles by Sydney lawyer, Gibson Owen dealing with the issues of intellectual property,as well as copyright and fair use . These were first published in The Education Technology Guide, and I've posted reviews reflecting on their main points here and here. So, basically, if an image or resource doesn't specify its licensing conditions then copyright must be assumed. That means asking for permission from the copyright owner. How often do teachers even really do that? Often, permission might only be an e-mail away and an excellent practice for kids to get involved in.
So, unless you get permission then it might be wise to look for alternatives to content that is copyrighted. In my understanding, unless someone specifies otherwise, all material has to be assumed to be under copyright. What else can someone license their creations under?
The two options are Creative Commons and Public Domain. There are plenty of experts with more knowledge than me but in general, Public Domain means open slather - grab it, use it, no attribution, no permission needed, hack it up, distort it, combine it, mash it up - no strings attached. Great to use bu can be hard to find because understandably, when someone creates something ( a photo, music, diagram etc) they at least want recognition of ownership even if they don't want to be dishing out permission all the time or charging people for its use. So that's where Creative Commons can fill the gap. This is where a creator can choose a CC license that relaxes some of the copyright restrictions that require explicit permission. You can find plenty high quality CC material all over the web but there are variations between CC licenses that the owners can invoke and expect you, the user, to honour. One of the biggest repositories of CC photographs for instance can be found on Flickr, the popular photo sharing website. The problem being of course, that in our South Australian schools, Flickr is blocked by our filters. But for teachers planning and creating flipcharts at home, this is a great place to source material that quite often only requires a citation. Some CC licenses willingly let you re-use material and edit it for your own purposes.
So, when scouring the web looking for material to put on your flipcharts, remember "fair use". But if you intend to publish or upload your flipcharts to those web based arenas, read the fine print and look for the licenses before copy and pasting.


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