Understanding Copy Right & Creative Commons Licenses

Why Creative Commons?

The Internet makes millions of images, videos, and audio clips available for students to use in their projects, providing rich examples and evidence. Many of the resources available on the Internet, however, have some form of copyright protection. Under certain circumstances, students and educators can use these resources under the protection of the Fair Use provisions of the 1976 Copyright Law; however, students and educators do not have carte blanche to use these resources in any way they choose (below, we discuss some basic principles of this conceptually complex field.)

One strategy as an educator for dealing with the complexities of copyright is to devote time to teaching it and to helping students understand their rights under fair use and the rights of copyright holders. Another strategy is to direct students to photos, music, video and other resources that have been posted online by people who want their work to be reused, remixed, and reinvigorated.

Creative Commons is an organization with a mission to "develop, support, and steward legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation." Their core contribution to society is the development of a series of Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses allow copyright holders to share their work with "some rights reserved" in contrast to the "all rights reserved" position taken by most copyright holders.

On this page we first discuss Creative Commons licenses and how to find licensed media that you can use. For those who want to research more about educators rights under fair use, we also include a section on copyright law and fair use.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative commons licenses can be understood as helping copyright holders answer three basic questions:

  1. Do you want others to be allowed to modify your work?
  2. Do you want others to be allowed to make commercial uses of your work?
  3. If you allow others to modify your work, do you want them to share alike (to make their derivative work allowed to be modified)?

Creative Commons offers a series of six licenses based on their answers to these questions. These license all have a legal code, a human-readable summary, and machine readable code so search engines can index Creative Commons licensed materials. The least restrictive license is known as CC BY which states that anyone can use the material in anyway as long as the original work is credited. The most restrictive is CC BY NC ND which allows other users to download and share the work, but not to modify or sell the work in anyway. A summary of the six licenses can be found here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/.

One of the best ways for students to learn about Creative Commons licenses is to license their own work which they share on the Internet. One of the easiest ways for students to choose a license is through the License Chooser, which will automatically generate a license for students. http://creativecommons.org/choose/

Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons also hosts a search engine that searches for Creative Commons licensed materials: http://search.creativecommons.org/. The page provides access to seven different search tools: Google's Web search for general materials, Google Images and flickr for images, blip.tv for video, jamendo for music, and SpinXpress and Wikimedia Commons for multiple media forms.

The Creative Commons search engine is particularly useful for finding "decorative" elements for multimedia presentations. If students need clip art, generic images, or background music for a presentation, the Creative Commons search engine is a great place to find materials that content creators *want* to have used and remixed.

Key Definitions for Copyright

Copyright is a form of protection given to published and unpublished work that gives the copyright holder mostly exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and prepare derivations of a work. (http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf). Copyright law is derived from Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, where Congress is instructed to " To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries; " The primary law governing copyright in the U.S. is the 1976 Copyright Act.

Some works, especially resources either created before the existence of copyright, or whose copyright has expired, become part of the Public Domain. The Library of Congress and National Archives have created thousands of digital copies of Public Domain materials and made them available for public use. Any resource that exists in the Public Domain can be integrated into a project without fear of copyright infringement.

Educators frequently use copyrighted work under the concept of Fair Use. “Fair use permits a second user to copy part or all of a copyrighted work under certain circumstances, even when the copyright holder has not given permission or even objects to that use of the work.” (source: Teaching Copyright Glossary) Fair use is a very difficult concept. The 1976 Copyright law makes clear that educational purposes potentially fall under fair use, but it does not provide strict guidelines for interpreting fair use, but rather four factors that must be considered:

  • The purpose and character of your use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substance of the portion taken
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market

The only true way to determine whether a use falls under these four factors is to have a case of infringement adjudicated by the court system. Since this has happened very few times within the K-12 system (and certainly very, very few times since the advent of the Internet), the rights of educational users of copyright materials are not well demarcated.

For the past 35 years, consortia of copyright holders have advocated a very narrow reading of these four factors and encouraged educators to believe that they have very limited rights under fair use. In the past five years, educators and allies have made a determined effort to push back against this line of thinking, and carve out a broad interpretation for the rights of educators and students under fair use. After all the Constitution provisions copyright law in order to "promote science and the useful arts" not to "protect corporate market share."

Resources for Understanding and Teaching Copyright

Copyright is a complex and often misunderstood concept. Fortunately, there are many resources available for learning about and teaching these concepts.

The very best resources have been created by Renne Hobbes, a professor of media literacy at Temple University. We consider her to be the leading expert on educators rights under fair use, and we greatly value her efforts to argue persuasively for the rights of educational uses of copyrighted materials.

 

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