Copyright: The War against Piracy is Stifling Creativity

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As an educator who utilizes technology in her teaching, I had so many questions about copyright that no one seemed to be able to answer: 
What does copyright mean?
Where can I find free-to-use content?
Do Fair Use principles cover me as an educator?
My pursuit of answers that led me down a rabbit hole of information, contradictions, and legal jargon. Unfortunately contemporary copyright laws are convoluted and full of “grey areas”. The hypocrisy of how most laws have been established (through large corporations looking to cash-in) has stunted culture and put limits on creativity in the digital world. While I do believe direct copy and paste piracy should be illegal, today’s restrictions may be crippling today’s Creative Class of learners.
See original slides with image / music sources here.

Finding Free-to-Use Content for Multimedia Projects

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I once tried what I thought was a fantastic idea as an English teacher: have students create a movie trailer for a book they had read to present to their classmates. Students did an excellent job carefully piecing together images, footage and background music using a variety of editing software. When they presented in front of their peers, we filmed their presentations and posted them privately on YouTube.

Then YouTube took down the majority of my students' videos  for copyright infringement. Oops.
I had to backtrack and learn more about copyright laws and teach this information to my digital citizens:
I also created a student-friendly printable "cheat sheets" to help students find content for their multimedia projects:
Please feel free to copy these materials and use them for educational purposes.

This Post is Licensed for Noncommercial Reuse

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It is my school’s policy that students and teachers use only copyright-free material. This makes sense hypothetically, but what does it actually mean? Where could this mysterious content be found?  After asking around, it became clear to me that copyright-free material was not understood by many other teachers as well. So how could we possibly teach and model finding such content for our students? Although it was part of my job to ensure students were only using copyright-free material, I knew very little myself about what can and cannot be used nevermind how to monitor this from my students.  However, teaching in a technology-focused school means the students use digital technology to create many of their projects. They take images, video clips, sound bites and more from the internet and to create their own products on a regular basis. 

I decided to make it my mission to learn about copyright licensing alongside my students. 

First, I compiled a list of websites with copyright-free material. I sent students to my Pinterest board of copyright-free resources. However, my students thought Pinterest itself was all copyright-free material which could not be further from the truth. I witness numerous students searching for "copyright-free" content using the search bar of Pinterest!

I can see now why the students were confused.
So next, I modeled finding content using the Creative Commons website. This search engine links to various copyright-free sites. But students still struggled with the specific options on the different websites.
Luckily Creative Commons has a great resource to explain what each of the copyright permissions mean:
Sharing Creative Works (Creative Commons) by Creative Commons

For my own students, I made it clear what the best options would be for them on various websites: 

Make a copy of these lesson slides here
We went over the above slides as a class before any task requiring images, video or audio. I also print hard copies of these slides for students to refer to at their desks. 
Whenever we brainstormed Success Criteria as a class, I made a point to include "copyright-free material" in the list. It became second nature to always use copyright-free content and students began searhing for only copyright-free content in their other subject classes without being asked to.

Research Function in Google Docs and Presentations

Since I mostly utilize Google tools in my teaching, one of the simplest ways for my students to find copyright-free material is using the Research Tool in Google Docs and Presentations. This tool allows you to search Google content (filtered by usage rights) directly in Docs via a pop up box. 
A few of my students made this tutorial video: 
I think it is important to teach students to identify and understand the copyright-free licenses so they can determine for themselves what material they can and cannot use. Furthermore, students should understand WHY they should use copyright-free material and how to label their own work in the Creative Commons.