Has any elementary school student in the history of the world tried to sell their Google Slides project to anyone? No you say? So why do elementary schools spend time each year forcing students as young as 2nd grade to attempt to follow arbitrary citation formats for images they re-use after grim, confusing lectures about “Copyright” from the head of the class?
We’ve all seen it: the three slide presentation with a title, a few sentences, an image or two and then the attempt at a citation, usually below the image which then mars the aesthetics of the student’s work. Instead of focusing on how to use the tool, to format things for readability or follow design principles, we get nine year old novice keyboarders taking eleven minutes to mis-type a URL. I walked in on this “copyright/citation lesson” so many times as a tech integrationist; you could literally see the enthusiasm for both the subject and the technology draining from the student.
The idea of dropping citation instruction from elementary digital learning programs will cause some serious pearl clutching among some of our media center and teacher colleagues, and let’s be clear—nobody is saying you can claim another’s work as your own, that is common sense.
What is not sensible is the way “copyright” is almost universally mis-taught in schools.
As “taught”, it not only discourages kids from following their natural inclination to be innovative and inquisitive using digital tools, more importantly, the endless focus on copyright denies the stronger argument that almost everything a student does as schoolwork falls under “Fair Use” and would be/is therefore exempt from any/all copyright claims in the first place.
In US law, fair use has four broad categories. They are:
- Effect: Whether the purpose and character of the use are of a commercial nature or are for nonprofit educational purposes.
- Nature: Whether the nature of the copyrighted work itself is primarily factual or creative.
- Amount: How much of the work is used, or how substantial is the part used, in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
- Purpose: How the use affects the author’s ability to market and realize a profit from the work.
Fair use is almost always granted if it is noncommercial, for schoolwork or education and not being used to try and make money, obtain views, etc.. As well, re-purposing an image is not using the entire article, webpage, etc., as your own. Student reports are not meant to be public repositories to inform others about penguins or cats or tigers, and when students use images and information in their assignments, it’s nearly always for non fiction work, which is almost always granted fair use.
At a minimum, schools should be balancing the boogeyman of copyright with the freedoms of fair use.
What is nearly as frustrating as the focus on copyright over fair use is the tone deafness to the fact that Western culture largely rests on and is entirely enthralled by sampling, reusing and repurposing material. Popular entertainment is so often based on sequels and spinoffs, rehashes and remixes! We should be encouraging creative transformation and re-use in schools, not haranguing primary school kids about copyright.
The good news is that some things can be improved by actually doing less, not more! Please pass this link of resources from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to your teachers, your integrationists and your media center colleagues. Because, to cite the Foundation’s main point behind creating the resource, “Students need fair use information, not copyright intimidation.”