Friday, November 21, 2014

Copyright, Creative Commons, and Google searches

The National Educational Technology Standards for Students put forth by the ISTE states that in order to achieve learning and life skills Students must practice responsible use of technology systems, information and software.  We can also note that this same standard is embedded within the Research components (avoidance of plagiarism) of the Common Core as well as the Information Fluency Continuum (Library Media Standards). 

Rightfully, much of our focus with students is on the avoidance of plagiarism in terms of properly citing and paraphrasing text.  However, students are citizens of the digital universe and need to understand the rules (and laws) that regulate our use of copyrighted material, including digital images.

Copyright law is tricky to understand!  It's true!  Yet, there are some basic guidelines that will help us.
  • Any work that is put down in tangible format is automatically copyrighted. There is no special paperwork one needs to submit (although you can).  Once you create it - you own it!  And you own all of the rights to copy, distribute, and alter it. This includes digital images; indeed it includes all material on the Internet.  
  • Most government documents are in the public domain and are available for us to use.
  • There is some leeway for educators to use copyrighted material (but not as much as we may think).  This is called fair use.
  • Copyright licensing for digital images has evolved to include what is known as Creative Commons - a way for those who post images online to dictate the specific terms of use for their images.  Those who use the Creative Commons licensing are often interested in sharing their images more freely with the public.
A common misconception is that anything on the Internet is open to the public to copy, distribute, and alter as they so choose.  This is simply not true.  Copyright law projects the creator of original works of all types, including all material online.  In the technology age, it is important that students understand that copying images (and music!) that is protected under copyright law is sometimes illegal.

There are several directions we can take when teaching our students to avoid misusing copyrighted images. 
  • Direct them to use databases, such as AP Images.
  • Encourage them to cite images as frequently as they cite text sources.
  • Teach them about copyright friendly image websites, such as wikimediacommons.
  • Show them the Google search feature that narrows a Google image search to filter by usage rights.  This helps focus an image search to those images that may be available as a Creative Commons or Public Domain image.