Several recent opportunities to work with groups of teachers in the past couple of weeks has prompted this post. An issue that is important for teachers and students to understand is copyright law. This is particularly true as they engage their students in creating so many marvelous digital products, many of which will be shared online. I’ve heard a couple of common statements/questions repeatedly:
- If something isn’t marked as copyrighted, is it copyrighted?
- Can I use something if I bought it (e.g. music from a purchased CD or download)?
The answer to the first question is “yes”. Original published works don’t have to have a copyright statement to be copyrighted. The answer to the second is “maybe”, depended upon several factors and multiple legal opinions. It is fairly clear, though, that using a large part or all of a song, even if purchased, is not acceptable without permission from its publisher or creator.
Fortunately, there are so many resources that are acceptable, teachers and students don’t have to consult with lawyers in order to find usable resources. Many are available online, and, by simply using the advanced search features of Google and other search engines, it is easy to determine which ones are okay to use. Let’s use a Google search for images of “the Alamo” as an example. This search returned a whopping 2.7 MILLION images, the majority of which have copyrights that protect them from reuse. Now, click on the Advanced Search link. Scroll down the page and find the line labelled Usage Rights. Click the dropdown menu and select Labelled for Reuse.
Google Advanced Search
Click the Google Search button in the upper right. The results now are reduced to 154, but all have been specifically licensed by their creators for use by others. Each source may have specific limitations, which can usually be found listed on their respective pages. Most often, they simply require a citation. The same process can provide useable results from a general Google web search. Yahoo! offers a similar search feature.
In addition to advanced search tools, there are numerous sites that offer a range of media that is permissible for use in student projects. I’ve listed just a tiny sampling below, to get things started. Many more can be found by simply searching for public domain or Creative Commons sources online. The critical thing is to raise our students’ awareness of the importance of obeying the laws and to equip them with the tools to do so easily.