Books, peer-reviewed articles, magazines, interviews, and websites. That is the extent of the sources I had to learn to reference when I was in university. It was a straightforward process: either summarize, paraphrase or quote the source, put an in-text citation, and add a reference in the bibliography. That was it. Simple. Academic honesty and the necessary knowledge about copyright was reduced to make sure that I properly acknowledged my sources in all my papers, and that I didn’t copy someone else’s work, or allowed somebody else to copy mine.

In information-rich times, this process is now substantially more complex for two reasons. First, there is a wider range of media types that are readily available to all through the Internet. Second, the advancement in technological devices and Web 2.0 applications, allow the average person to easily create and share information in a variety of formats and mediums, previously reserved to professional fields. In particular, with the ubiquitous nature of digital media, the possibilities for remixing to create new works has become commonplace. The documentary Eyes Wide Open illustrates this.

So, what do we, as teachers, need to know about copyright in the digital era?

All these changes in our information landscape inevitably have had a ripple effect in teaching and learning. On a daily basis, through the learning engagements that we set up, our students are exposed to a variety of media, both as consumers and as producers. In consequence, knowing how to use these media responsibly and respectfully should be a key aspect of our teaching, but in order to be able to do this, we all should be knowledgeable about the basics of copyright in education. Yes, I said all teachers. Media and information literacy concern all disciplines, thus they need to be addressed across all subject areas.

Using my own experience, these are some of the issues that come up quite frequently in class, and that can be addressed with a solid understanding of the basic principles of copyright.

  • Do you need to cite all the sources used in a piece of work, including information that is common knowledge or that is part of the public domain?
  • How do you cite mixed media?
  • Can you use all images, videos and other types of media found through search engines as long as you cite them?
  • Can you use a song that you bought on iTunes in your own work?
  • Can you change the lyrics to a song you bought on iTunes and share it on social media?
  • Can you modify all images and remix them with other media to create a new work?

I polled my students (Grade 6, Grade 10 and Grade 12) on some of these questions, and here are their answers.

Some interesting results there. While I can confidently answer some of the questions above, there are a few that made me realize I needed to make an effort to better understand some aspects of copyright. After conducting my research, I decided to condense my findings into an infographic that I can easily share with other teachers and with my students.

Next Steps

I  have realized that I need to be more consistent in the way I select and acknowledge the sources I use in my teaching materials to make sure that I am modeling good practices at all times. I also need to spend more time engaging my students with the key features of copyright and its limitations, allowing my students to have plenty of practice for those tricky situations. Finally, I am going to encourage my students to choose Creative Commons licenses for their own creative works so they can share with the world on their own terms.

Image sources:

Copyright under a magnifying glass by PDPicks, and old books by Moshehar, were released under Creative Commons CC0, so no attribution is required. Images found on Pixabay.

All other images belong to the author.