Thoughts About Copyright…

The beginning of the second COETAIL course has started.  With this next beginning, another round of questions upon questions has begun as well.  The first topic of business is copyright.

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What is copyright?  According to the United States Copyright Office, it is “a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”

What kinds of protection does copyright include?  It allows for the creator of an original work to be given exclusive rights for a certain period of time.  In the United States, the time frame is currently life plus 70 years, generally.  There are a few other cases where the timeline is different, but that is the general rule of thumb.  The creator has the right to decide who can or cannot reproduce, make derivative works, distribute copies, publicly perform or display their work.  This includes the whole work, or parts thereof.

What can be copyrighted?  It almost seems like anything can be copyrighted:  written work, paintings, photographs, music (both written and recorded), architectural works, plays, choreographed works, and so on.

What if I want to use someone’s creation?  For example: include a photo on my web page?  I would need to contact the creator, and get permission to use the work, and use it as specified by the creator.  What’s great is that now, a lot of works now have what is called a “creative commons” attached to it.  This allows the creator to assign a license to the work that outlines exactly how, and under what conditions,  someone else can copy their work.

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That’s great stuff!  But wait…  I’m not American.  I’m Canadian.  And I don’t work and teach in the United States, I work and teach in India, although at an American school.  Aren’t the laws in each country different?  What rules do I follow?  When do I follow them?  What are the differences?  How do I choose?  If I’m asking those questions, my students are too.

For example, looking at some of the differences between American and Canadian copyright laws, the biggest one that stands out is “fair use“.  It allows for some people to use material under limited conditions without permission from the author.  This can include using material for teaching, news, or research, as well as a few other instances.  The source must still be cited, of course.  In Canada, there is no “fair use”. We have “fair dealing“.  This takes into account the purpose, character, amount, alternatives, nature and effect on original work the copying may have.  The biggest difference is that there is no clause for education, which has a huge personal and professional impact on my part.  There is, however, a new bill (earlier C-32, and now C-11) that would introduce amendments to the current legislation, including educational usage.

When teaching about copyright, students should first and foremost be taught the spirit of copyright.  That is, how to go about using something that does not belong to you.  Would you help yourself to a ball, a piece of clothing, or an iPod without the owner’s permission?  No.  So why use a creative piece of work (no matter what it is) without permission?  I would ask my students about how they would feel if someone used something that belonged to them without asking first, possibly changing some things about it, or adding new things to it. Compare that to how they would feel if someone wanted to use that same item with your permission, and also asked exactly how they could use the item, and if they could change it, or use only part of it.

When reading “Something Borrowed” from, I couldn’t help but think that if I were in Dorothy Lewis’ shoes, I would feel ripped off and cheated.  I would hope to find examples to use with students to create a feeling of empathy for someone who may find themselves in a similar situation.  Discussing the notion of integrity, of doing the “right” thing, even when no one is looking, is another discussion that can be tied to copyright.  If you use someone’s material, you need to ask permission and give them credit for it.  It’s not just about copyright, it’s about how to be a decent human being.  That’s a notion that can be discussed and taught in any country, no matter what the copyright laws are.

Teach students about the initial intention of copyright: that it is intended to promote creativity.  We all want to belong and a big part of that is sharing, especially as we learn.  Everyone has something that inspires them: artists look to landscapes, buildings, other art; writers enjoy certain genres of literature; architects look at buildings and nature; musicians all learned “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  Most of these things were created by someone else (some are natural, such as a lake, but we can even create those too!). If you do a Google search, you will come up with a tonne of examples. There is nothing wrong with being inspired or influenced by someone’s creation.  Without that inspiration, we can’t grow or learn.

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Teaching in countries that don’t necessarily adhere to international copyright laws poses another layer of complications for students learning in these regions. Why learn about it if no one is going to check on it or hold anyone accountable?  Again, I believe that by creating an emotional connection in conjunction with knowledge that they might someday work or live in an area that does adhere to copyright laws would lay the framework for using and following the spirit of copyright.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts About Copyright…

  1. Liz, it was interesting to read about the differences between US and Canadian copyright. Thanks for that! I agree with you about the necessity to establish an emotional connection. It DOES underpin the intention of copyright and makes the apparent need to adhere to another country’s LAWS less relevant. We should encourage the spirit of copyright, not focus on the consequences of infringement. Hopefully that spirit will continue to be understood as Creative Commons licensing increases.

  2. I totally agree with what Liz has written every country has there own laws about copyright but the main aim is same. We as an educator should encourage our students and everyone to follow copyright laws and should make the awareness globally no matter where we go and teach.

  3. I think your point about the difference between Canadian and US guidelines is a really significant issue, especially when you say in Canada there is not that big loop hole for educators…because honestly when you read the fair use guidelines for the US, it seems like anything goes if you say it is for teaching and learning, which…when you look at other things this does not seem to be the case. When I read the Wes Fryer article fleshing out what and how much we can use, I got a bit nervous. It seems as though no matter where you look, it is hard to get a clear, on-point and consistent message. I am almost as confused as when I started!

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