Six more myths about copyright in education

I’ve written about copyright myths before. Since then, several more have come to my attention. These are six more popular misconceptions about copyright in education.

Copyright applies no less to education than any other sector, but content users are often confused about what conditions of copyright do (or do not) apply to educational use.

1. Creating a derived work from the text of others is okay

This is plagiarism. Whilst not directly in the ‘copyright’ conversation, it is closely created. The resulting derived piece will almost certainly show evidence that the source has in fact originated elsewhere. Instead of reworking, this is best approached by applying your own understanding or interpretation of the original piece (or pieces) with the result being a uniquely individual result – an expression of your own view or interpretation of facts. If you must use original content from another authors’ work, clearly quote and cite the source.

2. Modifying a piece n times will result in it being sufficiently different that copyright no longer applies

Copyright still applies. The number of times you modify a piece does not impact the likelihood of infringement. In the case of artistic works, copyright infringement is likely to be decided based upon the modified element(s) and whether these form a significant component in the finished piece. If the original elements maintain a recognisable original form, and also are significant in establishing the message in the new work, then a copyright infringement is likely. If however the original elements are not significant or even not immediately recognisable, then the likelihood of infringement is reduced. Best advice: obtain permission anyway.

3. Exam papers are circulated so widely among staff that copyright clearly doesn’t apply

Exam boards typically have their own guidelines about reproduction of their past papers. These vary from one board to another. Some will allow for exact reproduction only. Others will ask that reproduction is by specific methods only (for example, printed from an original, but not duplicated with reprographic devices like a photocopier). Constraints regarding the location of use may mean that you cannot upload a copy to your VLE, since access to papers is then possible away from campus. Bottom line: check with the board rather than making an assumption.

4. I get lots of useful resources from an online community and nobody ever mentions copyright

Before sharing any content in an online community, you may wish to check your own copyright entitlement. Are you waiving your entitlement or transferring your rights by uploading? There should be clear terms and conditions to explain this. Before downloading and using content, you should also check whether the owner has specifically indicated that you may use the content without requesting any further permission. The chances are that in a community of individuals with shared interests each of those sharing the content will be pleased for others to use it. However, you may wish to check this first and avoid making assumptions that might be incorrect.

5. Using big brand names in my teaching resources is okay because large companies aren’t interested in small infringements

Big brands are no different from a small business just around the corner – their logo (and any associated trademark) is their intellectual property. You must acquire permission before using it. In many cases, you might find that there are exceptions to using their logo or trademark in an educational context – but you still need to demonstrate that this is the case with a suitable reference to permission. Its unlikely that multinational companies will be concerned about your use of their logo in an educational context, but you must also consider whether the use of that logo might transcend the original context and end up somewhere else resulting in negative brand impact. Consider how the Tango fizzy drink brand was negatively impacted by the playground ‘slapping’ craze. While not a copyright issue, the drinks company subsequently had to reverse the negative impact the craze had on their image.

6. My assumptions about copyright must be correct because they are shared by others

Making assumptions about copyright is inherently risky. Don’t make assumptions, but instead keep these key points in mind:

  • Always be mindful of and identify the copyright owner, whatever media you might be intending to use.
  • Always be aware of the licensing entitlements of your organisation, which might enable you to use certain pieces without needing express permission to do so.
  • Find out who has responsibility for copyright compliance in your organisation and ask them for guidance – they will have lots of good advice for you.
  • Always clearly acknowledge the copyright owner and the permission you have acquired or your licensed entitlement to use their materials.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy reading the it’s predecessor, ‘Six Myths About Copyright In Education‘.

Disclaimer: I’m not a copyright professional, but have gathered the information here form a variety of different sources, each of which offers an independent view of copyright. If you really don’t want to fall foul of copyright law, make full use of professional resources and always, always seek permission for anything you wish to use. Naturally, I will be happy to receive corrections from copyright professionals who may wish to offer corrections to the above.

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