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Unraveling the Mysteries of Copyright Protection in Education By Zenia C. Bahorski and Konnie G. Kustron, MACUL SIGCS

Marshall, a middle school history teacher, required that his students create a group project of a three-minute video of a “famous person in history”. His students did a fabulous job! One group even uploaded their project to YouTube®. The video goes viral! There is even talk about making it into a movie. Now for some questions: Who owns the copyright to this video? Is it the teacher, or the school district, or the leader of the group, or the group of students? Will the controversy of the video involve the rights of the parents? These questions are at the heart of education and copyright. The integration and proliferation of technology in education has resulted in an ever-expanding new pool of copyrighted materials owned by schools, teachers and students. A small portion of these new technologies written by teachers, or by students for class assignments includes: e-books; podcasts; vodcasts; computer programs; classroom blogs; videos used as class projects; electronic sharing of documents, drawings, videos, or images; illustrations or materials resulting from the use of commercial software. Any or all of these could be restricted by copyright. Copyrighted materials, created by teachers and students alike, can have serious legal implications. Although this article is not meant to give legal advice, educators must learn the how’s and why’s of copyright, be able to model best practices in their classroom, and relate principles of ownership of copyright to their students. According to copyright law, everything fixed (tangible) in print, in a sound recording, in a digital file, in an email, in a sketch, or in a two or three-dimensional work of art, pantomimes and choreographic works, etc., can be copyrighted by the author of the work (17 U.S.C. § 102; U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 92, p. 7). Copyright 26

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protection does not include: “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work” (U.S.C. § 102). Not all works are copyrightable by the person creating them. Works for hire, as defined by copyright law, include “1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or 2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution or a collective work” (U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 9, p. 1). Therefore, minors (with a parent or guardian’s permission), as well as adults who are hired to create a copyrightable work as part of their job description relinquish their property rights to their employers. This is where teacher contracts come in to play and why it is important to clarify who owns what. Generally, a teacher owns his or her work if allowed by their contract or agreement (In fact, public school teachers are more likely than private school teachers to retain copyright of the works they produce!) Otherwise, ownership is generally with the employer. This brings us to the limitations of using student work in the classroom. What permissions, if any, are necessary to use student work? The intellectual property rights of the student are no different than those of the teacher. The major difference is that the teacher would need to obtain written permission from a parent or guardian before copying, distributing or creating derivatives of the student’s work. This is, of course, unless a parent has signed a waiver turning over all copyright to the school, the district, or other organization that would display a students’ work (Look to the MACUL Journal Student Publication Guidelines for a sample.)

Spring 2014

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MACUL journal

MACUL Journal Spring 2014  
MACUL Journal Spring 2014  

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