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Alice Keeler

10 Ways Teachers Violate Copyright (and How to Avoid It)

Navigating copyright laws can be challenging for educators, especially when trying to create engaging and informative materials for their students. However, sometimes we might unknowingly violate copyright laws when using resources in the classroom. To avoid any legal trouble, it's essential to understand common copyright pitfalls and how to navigate them. One critical aspect of copyright law that teachers should be familiar with is "fair use." Here are ways teachers violate copyright:

10 Ways Teachers Violate Copyright (and How to Avoid It)

Navigating copyright laws can be challenging for educators, especially when trying to create engaging and informative materials for their students. However, sometimes we might unknowingly violate copyright laws when using resources in the classroom. To avoid any legal trouble, it’s essential to understand common copyright pitfalls and how to navigate them. One critical aspect of copyright law that teachers should be familiar with is “fair use.” Here are ways teachers violate copyright:

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a legal doctrine in the United States that allows for limited use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. It is intended to promote creativity, innovation, and the spread of knowledge. However, fair use is not a blanket exception and must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Four factors determine whether a use qualifies as fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Fair Use in Education: What Teachers Can Use

In general, teachers can use copyrighted materials for educational purposes under fair use, as long as the use is transformative and does not negatively impact the market for the original work. Examples of permissible uses under fair use may include:

  1. Criticism and commentary: Using portions of copyrighted works for analysis, criticism, or discussion in the classroom.
  2. Parody: Creating parodies of copyrighted works for educational purposes, provided that the parody is transformative and does not replace the original work.
  3. Teaching: Incorporating copyrighted materials into lessons, provided that the use is limited, directly related to the educational objectives, and not excessively commercial.

Fair Use in Education: What Teachers Cannot Use

  1. Copying and distributing entire textbooks or significant portions of copyrighted works without permission.
  2. Playing copyrighted music or videos in class for entertainment purposes or without clear educational objectives.
  3. Uploading or sharing copyrighted materials online without permission or legal rights.
  4. Using copyrighted images or content in presentations, worksheets, or online materials without permission or legal rights, even with proper citation.

Remember, Citation is Not Enough

It’s crucial for educators to understand that proper citation of copyrighted materials does not equate to having permission or legal rights to use the content. In addition to citing the source, teachers must also ensure that their use of copyrighted materials falls under fair use, or they must obtain permission from the copyright holder.

A teacher might inadvertently violate copyright in various ways, often due to a lack of understanding of copyright law or the belief that educational settings provide blanket exemptions. Here are some common scenarios in which a teacher might unintentionally infringe on copyright:

1. Photocopying copyrighted materials

Violation: Photocopying textbooks or other copyrighted works without permission can infringe on the copyright holder’s rights.

Solution: Obtain permission from the copyright holder or use materials under the public domain or Creative Commons license.

Even though your intentions are to enhance your students’ educational experience, photocopying copyrighted material without permission still violates the law. It is essential to respect the rights of creators and use materials within the legal framework. Instead of photocopying copyrighted materials, you can explore alternatives, such as obtaining permission from the copyright holder, using materials under a Creative Commons license, or using public domain resources.

Regarding digital distribution through platforms like Google Classroom, the same copyright rules apply. Sharing copyrighted materials, such as digital copies of books, articles, or other resources, without permission is a violation of copyright law. To distribute digital materials to your students legally, you should:

  • Obtain permissions/licenses from copyright holders
  • Use public domain or Creative Commons materials
  • Access resources through legitimate educational platforms (e.g., subscription databases, school library e-resources)
  • Be mindful of fair use guidelines
  • Follow school policies on copyright

2. Playing copyrighted music or videos

Violation: Playing copyrighted music or videos in class without obtaining a proper license can be a copyright violation.

Solution: Use royalty-free music or videos, or obtain an educational license for copyrighted materials.

A teacher may show an entire Disney video to their class under specific circumstances, generally falling within the boundaries of the “face-to-face teaching exemption” provided by the United States copyright law (Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act). To qualify for this exemption, the following criteria must be met:

  1. Educational setting: The video must be shown within a nonprofit educational institution, like a public school, private school, or college.
  2. Classroom instruction: The showing of the video must be part of the regular instructional activities of the educational institution and directly related to the curriculum or educational objectives. The use of the video must be for educational purposes and not for entertainment, recreation, or any other non-educational purpose.
  3. Face-to-face teaching: The teacher must be present in the same physical location as the students during the showing of the video. This exemption does not apply to online or distance learning environments.
  4. Lawfully made copies: The video shown must be a legally obtained copy, not a pirated or illegally copied version. This includes legally purchased or rented DVDs, Blu-rays, or digital copies.
  5. Public performance rights: In some cases, the educational institution may have obtained public performance rights for the video, which would allow them to show the video on campus for educational purposes.

3. Sharing copyrighted content online

Violation: Uploading or sharing copyrighted materials on websites, social media, or file-sharing platforms without permission is a violation.

Solution: Share only materials that you have permission to distribute or that are under a Creative Commons license.

Uploading or sharing copyrighted materials on websites, social media platforms, or within digital learning environments like Google Classroom without obtaining the necessary permissions may be a copyright violation.

4. Creating derivative works

Violation: Modifying or adapting copyrighted materials to create new content without permission is a copyright violation.

Solution: Seek permission from the copyright holder or use public domain materials for creating derivative works.

5. Unauthorized use of copyrighted images

Violation: Using copyrighted images in presentations or worksheets without permission is a violation.

Solution: Utilize images with a Creative Commons license, public domain images, or obtain permission from the copyright holder.

6. Unauthorized software use

Violation: Installing copyrighted software on multiple computers without proper licensing is a violation.

Solution: Purchase the necessary software licenses or use free, open-source alternatives.

7. Recording live performances

Violation: Recording live performances of copyrighted plays or musicals without permission is a copyright violation.

Solution: Obtain permission from the copyright holder or choose public domain or Creative Commons-licensed performances to record.

image of teacher with a cell phone. Recording live performances might be a copyright violation. 10 Ways Teachers Violate Copyright (and How to Avoid It)

8. Displaying copyrighted materials in public

Violation: Displaying copyrighted materials, such as posters or artwork, in public spaces without permission is a violation.

Solution: Seek permission from the copyright holder or use public domain or Creative Commons-licensed materials.

9. Incorporating copyrighted content in student projects

Violation: Allowing students to use copyrighted materials in their projects without permission is a violation.

Solution: Teach students about copyright laws and encourage the use of public domain or Creative Commons-licensed materials in their projects.

Tip: Obtain a free Canva for Education account to provide students with licensed images and videos they can use in their projects.

10. Failing to attribute sources

Violation: Not providing proper attribution for copyrighted materials used in the classroom is a violation.

Solution: Always give credit to the original creator by citing the source and including any necessary copyright information.

Tip: Google is not a source. Google is the search engine that helped locate a resource. Images and articles should not attribute “Google.”

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