Saturday, May 14, 2011

Copyright: Holding to a Higher Standard

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Large copyright sign made of jigsaw puzzle pieces by Horia Varlan"]Large copyright sign made of jigsaw puzzle pieces[/caption]

Copyright is black and white...or grey, depending on who you are and if you are creating or consuming at the time of the discussion.  Toss the concept of "fair use" into the mix and things get more confusing.  Add in the facts that many countries have differing laws and not everyone is a part of the Berne Convention (but many are) and that most of us humans don't really understand lawyer-speak, and things get murkier still.  Coming up with a copyright "policy" in a school is difficult.  Even more difficult when you realize that the students you teach (especially in international schools) are going to be global citizens and since you don't know what country they will live and work in, you can't really base your teaching on the laws of any particular country.  So, what to do?

I suggest that we hold our students to a higher standard:  use only what you know (and can prove) that you are allowed to use.  Even a policy such as this one is not as simple as it sounds.  But we can try to simplify it as much as possible.  Is the item in question (song, image, etc.) in the public domain? No? Then have you been granted permission through a creative commons license (or similar) by the creator of the piece in question?  No?  Then do you have written statement from the creator giving you permission to use it?  No?  Okay, so you can't use it.  Simple - from a teacher's perspective.  You either have permission, or you don't.  From a student perspective it is a bit more difficult in that the burden of proof lies with them.  But this is something we can teach, and we SHOULD teach.  In an age where you can email a famous artist for permission to use their work, and millions of not so famous artists are licensing their work under creative commons licenses, we should be holding students to a higher standard.  Use only what you know (and can prove) that you are allowed to use.