Copyright – Arming our students with the right information

I’ve spent the last two days in a conference.  The keynote speakers spoke well about their areas of expertise and had well designed presentations using visuals creatively to support their messages.  But I did not see one photo credit.  While I could tell some photos were probably their own, many were not. This got me thinking, are the adults in the lives of our students providing the models and support needed in this changing landscape of copyright usage?

Part of being a responsible citizen is not taking from others.  Students learn this value from a very young age.  They follow their parents around the shops, watching them make purchases and making payments for the things they buy – a range of products:  books, food, petrol.  They might start to see their parents also shopping online including digital books and music.  This is where it starts to merge into digital citizenship because it is now a digital platform; however, the idea is the same.  We should purchase the things that others make and we want.

Infographic created by Meryl Zeidenberg and Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Generally, kids easily internalize this aspect of being a responsible citizen.  But now the lines are blurry as online content is very accessible.  It may not be obvious that at the other end there was a creator and therefore a owner to the product (image, ideas, words).  Therefore I believe we have an important job to do from the moment kids walk into our classrooms and school to model authentically how we go about using, or if needed, purchasing content, products, services, and ideas.  It should be as transparent as a child walking into the supermarket with a parent, selecting some items and making the purchase. However, it’s clear from the length of the flowchart created by the folks of LangWitches about the use of material that it is not that simple.

Students need to be armed with the right type and amount of information so they continue to be innovative and creative and not too heavily restricted.  To help balance the copyright dilemma I like to reflect on the words of Austin Kleon in his talk ‘Steal Like an Artist’ and his book titled Steal Like an Artist.  I think it provides a balancing perspective to the Copyright issue.


A feature of elementary teaching is to look at the work of others for inspiration and ideas.  In art lessons, kids have been studying Eric Carle and his art work and stories for years and subsequently creating their own Eric Carle inspired pieces.  Similarly, students in my class get inspired to write poetry from reading the works of others, mimicking their style.  Students enjoy creating their own poem based on the work of Margaret Wise Brown’s book titled The Important Book.   We are always sure to give credit to the author letting others know our work has been inspired by hers.

I was also encouraged to read the website ‘Teaching Copyright’ which advocates for teaching about copyright issues in a balanced way.  To only present one side is doing a disservice to students.  Just as we arm ourselves with information to make decisions about using content, we too must help students.

“This misinformation is harmful, because it discourages kids and teens from following their natural inclination to be innovative and inquisitive. The innovators, artists and voters of tomorrow need to know that copyright law restricts many activities but also permits many others” state the folks from the Teaching Copyright website.  I agree that the need accurate and balanced information that will allow them to work confidently when using and creating content.


2 Replies to “Copyright – Arming our students with the right information”

  1. Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed Austin Kleon’s talk and your points surrounding it. My recent blog post was about copyright infringement of images. I can’t help but link what you have written to my own thoughts on copying / creating images. At times, there is a thin line between copying and using ideas as inspiration for transformation. And that difference, as you say, is that respect for other people’s ideas/images/art which we demonstrate by crediting their work. However, when we only teach students how NOT to copy or how to credit, we are doing them a disservice. We need to teach students how to use other people’s images and ideas to create their own work. But this is where I get stuck: while I am keen to use technology and strongly feel that students need to be technologically creative rather than simply copy, I am not knowledgeable enough about the possibilities out there to support this kind of creativity. Even more challenging, I need to learn how to do these things and somehow figure out how to build them into my already overloaded curriculum. And I think a lot of teachers out there are in the same place. Many teachers want students to be more creative, but are also struggling to help students figure out how to make that happen and how to find the time in class to explore these things. How do we find this time? is it worth it? I think so, but how do we convince others? And how do we get started?

  2. Great post! This topic is so timely for me right now, as a photographer friend of mine had a photo of hers stolen and published to a site without her consent. Like you said, it’s not always obvious to others that there was someone who created and therefore owns that product. Adults have trouble remembering that, and if we don’t teach that to our kids, they certainly won’t grow up to respect others’ work either.

    I also love how you mention the implications of teaching this to elementary-aged kids. I agree that it starts with talking about stealing, and how that can carry over to the Web. It’s hard when they’re surrounded by pirated videos and music, but it’s important for them to make that connection. Also, I can’t believe I never considered having kids credit the author when they write stories inspired by books they read (which they do ALL the time). Definitely going to make that part of my practice, thanks for the reminder!

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