Six myths 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. These are six popular misconceptions about copyright in education.

1. I’ve attributed the work, so that makes it okay, right?

Wrong. Attribution is generally required in addition to having permission to use the copyrighted material. If you don’t already have permission to use the media, then attribution is meaningless.

The exception here is when attribution is included with a license under which you are using the work – Creative Commons, for example, or referencing your licensee such as Shutterstock. If these cases, permission is not directly sought, but granted under the terms of a license – which must also be quoted in your attribution. In the UK, copyright license for educational use is often granted by the Copyright Licensing Agency for many works. If you are a teacher in the UK, you can use the Schools Copyright online tool to help you decide whether the CLA license covers you for this. Just make sure your organisation is covered by the CLA license.

2. I’ve found a great image using a search engine – can I just copy and paste?

No. By default, images you find on the web are already presented with copyright terms attached – whether you immediately see them or not. In other words, someone else created them and retains the copyright as the owner, even if no copyright symbol or statement is attached.

Any image you find online should always be presented with a suitable attribution statement, including permission or terms under which the content is used. In order for you to use the image, you must obtain the same copyright permission as any other work.

Some search engines offer tools that will help you find images that have specific license characteristics. For example, you could search for images that include permission to rework and reuse – remembering that if you choose to use one of these images, you still need to provide correct reference to the license and usage terms!

3. I’ve found a work that someone has already modified, so it must be okay for me to use, or modify!

No. Reworked pieces are still subject to copyright terms. You cannot reuse or rework them without prior agreement from the copyright owner of the original piece. Reusing or further reworking a piece leaves you liable to the same copyright infringement as the previous user. If no permission has been sought and granted, you will both be compromising the terms under which the work was originally published.

4. I found a work that is covered by the Creative Commons license, so I can do what I please with it!

Not quite. You need to check the type of license that has been granted for the work in question.

Creative Commons licenses offer different levels of entitlement for re-use, ranging from simply being able to re-use to full entitlement to rework the piece as long as you are credited for the original.

5. I created an awesome study resource – that makes me the copyright owner!

Not always. In many cases, a piece created whilst working for your employer and for the benefit of the business, copyright ownership is inherited by your employer. The Intellectual Property Office writes:

Where a written, theatrical, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work (subject to any agreement to the contrary).

6. I’m an educator – copyright doesn’t apply in education

The biggest and most dangerous myth of all. Education is no different from any other sector and copyright terms still apply.

Concessions are often (but not always) made for many works to be used in an educational context – by which I mean that the work is being used to support the learning activities of students in progression toward their qualification or for research. The IPO explains that duplication of a work is not permitted unless through the hand of the teacher or student where suitable┬álicense is held.

Education has two distinct areas of business – delivering the curriculum and running the business. Curriculum delivery falls right within the boundaries of concessions offered to educators, but business elements do not. Staff performing business functions in education must adhere to the same terms as any other sector when using copyrighted works.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy reading the follow-up ‘Six More 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.