Creative Credit & Copyright

  • January's Digital Citizenship Theme of the Month is Creative Credit & Copyright

    Previous Themes of the Month have been:

    September: Privacy & Security
    October: Internet Safety
    November/December: Relationships & Communication

    Creative Credit & Copyright are issues that are tightly intertwined. At their core is an individual's or organization's right to retain the right to control the distribution and reproduction of their ideas, and to earn recognition or profit from those. Copyright applies to basically anything. According to CommonSenseMedia( , if you have an idea and record it, it's instantly copyrighted. It does not matter if the work is hard copy or digital. It does not matter if someone overtly claims the copyright or not. Even more directly, everything is copyrighted unless the copyright holder has explicitly indicated that it is not. 

    Simply put, before you reproduce or re-distribute anything that you did not create yourself, you should know if you have permission to do so. There are many ways that this permission can be obtained. For example, works that are in the public domain are not subject to copyright. This generally means very old things. Or, obtaining an email from the copyright holder granting permission is not uncommon either.

    All Rights Reserved: This is the most common copyright phrase you hear/see. This literally means what it says, but a slightly longer version might say something like this: "All rights to the use, reproduction, or sharing of this work are withheld by the copyright owner." In many cases, there are accompanying documents that outline uses that they are willing to share. But until something more is said, "All Rights are Reserved." By the way, until you know otherwise, everything is subject to an "All Rights Reserved" copyright.

    Creative Commons: A relatively new concept to the copyright world is something called "Creative Commons". Works that claim their rights under Creative Commons are somewhere between the classic "All Rights Reserved" and "public domain" worlds. Creative Commons is especially common in the education realm where people want to get credit for their work, but also want their work to contribute to the greater good and progress of education. When a Creative Commons claim is made, it should be accompanied with a few simple details about that claim - like, any further use of this cannot make a profit, or further use must continue to credit the original author.

    Fair Use: Fair Use is a concept that applies only to certain situations - 1) education/schoolwork, 2) news reporting, 3) criticizing or commenting, and 4) comedy/parody. AND, it only applies when used in certain ways: 1) Using only a small amount of a work, 2) Adding new meaning and making it original, and 3) Reworking and using material in a different way. Fair use is not a particularly clearcut concept though. When in doubt about potential use of a work or a portion of a work, it is always advisable to seek permission from the copyright holder.

    Is there "clarity" in this?: There are things that are clearly not OK (unless permission is given) - photocopying a complete book, emailing copies of music files to others, posting copies of original works on websites, for example. These things are clearly beyond "Fair Use" and can result in significant monetary fines.

    If you are looking for some sort of litmus test that would say whether you can use something or not, some of those things DO exist (things in the public domain, for example).

    That said though, in many cases, you will be hard-pressed to find that specificity. However, you should be aware of the laws. You should also review licenses that you purchase for conditions of use. Even ask yourself, is my use preventing the creator/author from getting credit and/or making profit? Ultimately, you should be able to defend your use should you be asked. Again, when in doubt, seek permission... And always give credit.

    What does permission look like? In many "commercial" realms, a copyright right is defined by a license agreement. For example, most don't realize that when you buy a movie (or software or similar things) at a store, you are usually not actually buying the movie - what you are buying is the permission to use that movie (and the movie is not the DVD disk itself - it is what is ON the disk). That permission can include a lot of conditions. For example, permission might include phrases like "for the purchaser's personal enjoyment" or "without the express written consent" or "for private/home use". In most cases, by using the material, you will have implicitly accepted the terms of the license.

    What about things that are "subscribed to"? In today's world, there are a lot of subscription services that provide access to things - movies, tv shows, articles, podcasts, games and gaming sites, etc. When a subscription is required, that is a method in which the provider is attempting to control their copyright rights. When a person "shares" their access to these things with others without permission to do so, it could be interpreted as a violation of the copyright license. Rights can be revoked and fines could be assessed.

    Remember that everything is copyrighted until and unless it is not. This means that anything that you use that came with a license agreement has limitations to its use and, unless that agreement grants a permission, then you do not have that permission. For example, Netflix is a streaming service that comes with a license agreement. That agreement specifically says that the agreement outlines all acceptable uses. Can it be used in a classroom? Only if you can find in the license agreement that it is allowed. If it is not mentioned, then it is not allowed.

    The ability to do something does not give you the "right" to do that: As an example, you have the ability to photocopy pretty much anything - however, that does not give you the "right" to do that. Consider this: If it were "stoppable", it probably would be stopped and then there would not need to be a law about it. Bear in mind that as more things are done electronically, there is also an increasing ability to be "caught". Remember: The fact that you can't be stopped from doing something does NOT mean it is OK.

    As I'm sure you know, there is much more to this topic and lots of varying opinion. Awareness of the law, its spirit/intent, and strategies to stay legal are really important though.

    Lastly, the essence of copyright is meant to provide a means for sharing of information and ideas that allows individuals to get credit and/or profit from their work should they want that. No matter how you decide that you are "justified" in your use of something, one thing you should always do is properly and appropriately cite the creator/author.

    As with the other Digital Citizenship Themes of the Month, your teacher-librarians are a great resource for consultation about this issue. And, if you are looking for specific ideas of how you might be able to bring this topic into your classroom, please consult with your Teacher-Librarian and/or your IT Specialist.