“But it’s for my students – can I share?”: a tutorial on copyright, teaching, and the World Wide Web

Image: tubartstock / Shutterstock.com

The waters of copyright law are murky. A monkey snapping selfies with a stolen camera was argued to own the copyright to them; and a tattoo technically belongs to the artist, not the person wearing it. But you’re a teacher! What does all this have to do with you? It matters if you have uploaded your lesson plan online, or added someone else’s pictures to your presentation slides, or used pop music in a film you made with your students. In this tutorial, we look at some quick tips to uphold copyright, and some reasons to care about it.

Why should you care?

This is a valid question; after all, a lot of people don’t seem to care about copyright. This is certainly the case among young people, up to a half of whom favour illegal downloads and counterfeits. But copyright is similar to a moral right: you should be able to make a living from something you created. If your works were available for everyone to modify and republish, they would cease to generate any income. And in that case, you would have neither the means nor the motivation to create new ones.

For this reason, all original output automatically gains copyright protection, without the author having to file a request for it.

This entire issue is especially relevant to Europe, with its robust knowledge economy: already in 2013, intellectual property rights-intensive industries amounted to 39% of the European Union’s GDP.

What do you need to know?

You might be asking yourself, “Can’t I share it if it’s for a good cause?” Striking a good balance between private rights and public benefit is a major challenge of copyright law.

First of all, there are plenty of cultural artefacts that you can use freely, without having to worry about copyright. Works whose author died 70 or more years ago are considered Public Domain (PD), and have no restrictions placed on them – for example this painting:

Still Life with Parrot by Adriaen van Utrecht

The image is credited to Adriaen van Utrecht, but we need not have mentioned that. Also, the version you see here is unedited, but we could have edited it. These are two distinct advantages of the PD license.

Then, there are works licensed under Creative Commons (CC), which can be copied and distributed as long as credit is given to the creator. Depending on the type of CC license, the works can be published with or without alterations, exclusively for non-commercial use or for more uses. Foter has a handy graphic you can refer to (which is itself licensed under CC BY-SA):

Creative Commons Licenses

If you search for images on Google, the “Tools” function makes it easy to find images with the correct license:

Google Search Tools

And YouTube is also equipped with a search filter for isolating CC videos:

YouTube Creative Commons Filter

Several more websites make a point of hosting freely reusable resources. One prominent example is Europeana Collections and you will find a comprehensive list at the end of this tutorial.

You might argue that teachers should not have to be initiated into national and European legislation to do their job. The European Commission had the same thought, which gave rise to a proposed copyright reform in 2016. The new Copyright Directive introduces a mandatory exception allowing educators to use any copyright-protected work in their lessons, as long as they indicate the source. (Some Member States already have their own arrangements to reconcile copyright with education, which they may retain under certain conditions.) Once implemented, the directive should provide teachers with legal certainty in all situations.

What do your students need to know?

As mentioned earlier, young people tend to underestimate the importance of copyright. One way to change their view is to show how it relates to their own creative output. The Web We Want Handbook for Educators (available in 13 languages) takes this approach, particularly in the chapter The artist in you, featuring three lesson plans and two quizzes. Another example is EUIPO’s Creativity Diary, which intersperses its creative tasks with facts about intellectual property. There are even videos about copyright targeted at children, like this one:

In general, copyright counts as a transverse competence and should not be contained to one school subject. The areas that lend themselves best to its teaching are the arts, citizenship, entrepreneurship, ICT teaching and STEM.

You can already show your students you care about copyright by using PD or CC materials, like the ones below!

Freely reusable resources