Creating Copyright Guidelines

Creating Copyright Guidelines, my school as a work in progress.

First of all we have come a long way.

As a school librarian I have a front row seat as to what comes out of the copy machine.  We all know that many print, but not everyone picks up.  Over the 4 years I had been working at my school, it became very apparent that we had some serious copyright confusion.  I didn’t want to believe that the teachers didn’t care, but to put the best spin on it, there were times when their priority for using the best possible resources for their students took precedence over ethical concerns — just saying.

Being the copyright police is not a role that I wanted to play.  I tried diplomacy, I tried gentle pushing, and what I mostly got from the infringers  was push back.

Plan B.  — Next stop, our admin team and our Academic Council.  Fortunately they were all on board.  They were unanimously clear and strong  about declaring that copyright infringement is nothing short of stealing. As a school  we had fallen into some bad habits and we needed to change.  A gentle reminder that being copyright compliant aligned with our school mission statement and modeling ethical intellectual behavior for our students was helpful.

First Step:  Communication with our school community.  I talked with a lot people in our community, department chairs, faculty.  I realized that while most people felt copyright compliance was important, they had so much on their plate that taking the time to make the necessary changes was not a high priority.  And everyone did it, wasn’t it sort of like going 5 miles over the speed limit?

Second Step:  Faculty survey on Copyright Issues.  As a way to gauge the breadth and depth of our copyright confusion I created a short copyright survey for our faculty.  (As part of my ISTE poster session, please take the survey and I will share the results with you). We had all of the faculty do the survey in their faculty meetings during an in-service day. The English department was secure enough and kind enough that they invited me to be with them when they took the survey.  Their reaction to the section on the different copyright scenarios was eye-opening.  They shared that even if they got the questions correct, it would be from  luck, not from an advanced understanding of copyright.

Third Step:  Once I had shared the results with our faculty and Admin team we decided to take action.  Copyright is complicated, as is the Fair Use Analysis.  What would move our school forward from our most egregious uses of material?  We decided that we would no longer copy from textbooks created for our courses that students did not own, and that we would make coursepacks, with all of the appropriate permissions for material that is used more than one year.

Fourth Step:  Departments grappled with these changes.  For each department this meant something different.  The Math department purchased used sets of textbooks across their curriculum to use for practice problems for students.  The history department moved away from pulling material from a wide variety of sources and had their students purchase a textbook, (in many cases an e-text).  The English department became more organized and stringent about including material in their coursepacks.

Fifth:  We rewrote our Copyright Guidelines in our Employee Handbook.

Conclusion:  No we are not 100% copyright compliant.  But it is now on radar of our teachers and our students.  Students know when teachers are infringing, and now they were noticing that they were not.  I realized that there was a lot of angst around copyright.  Teachers didn’t want to ask if they could use a resource, thinking ignorance was the best excuse.  On the other hand, many of the uses that were causing teacher stress, were absolutely ok.  You can always link to a resource (that is, if it is a legal copy!).  And the transformational use (part of the 4 Factors of Fair Use) is much broader and robust than many teachers realized.

While we are grappling with copyright — we have taken a huge step forward.  It is an on going challenge.

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