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Picture this! 4 steps to understanding copyright issues

Respecting intellectual property is something our students need to learn and value before leaving our classrooms; here's how to start

Schools are using digital content more than ever before. They are relying on digital resources, open educational resources, and teacher-created content to support curricular goals. As more of our content is pushed out to students through online platforms, our responsibility to consider copyright as part of our planning process, no matter what the process looks like, grows.

When we are in the trenches of testing windows, grading, school safety, and all of our other daily responsibilities, copyright might not feel like the number-one priority. But it has to become a priority.

It is important that we as educators invest time and effort into becoming comfortable applying copyright—not only to keep ourselves free of the consequences of not doing so, but also so that we can pass on these skills to our students. This is a responsibility that we all share, no matter the grade level or content area.

One image at a time
Applying copyright best practices can be intimidating. There are so many moving pieces to think about and much of it lives in the gray area. Instead of trying to tackle it all at once, commit yourself to making one change at a time. Images are the perfect place to start.

We all use images in the content we create. Teachers include images on instructional materials, we encourage students to use images as part of their work, and administrators publish information for the community that can include images. If you’re doing a quick Google Image search to locate something for a school mascot logo on the school website, for example, it’s time to stop.

Respecting intellectual property is something our students need to learn and value before leaving our classrooms, but we can’t support them until we do it ourselves. So where do we start?

Enter Creative Commons
Creative Commons helps creators navigate and manage the elements of copyright as applied to their own creative works. For example, a teacher creates a lesson and wants to share, but wants to be more specific about how that lesson is used in other classrooms. The teacher could then use a Creative Commons license and apply it to the work. Creative Commons also maintains a platform for searching items that have used the Creative Commons licenses. Several platforms support Creative Commons licensing, and most of these are platforms you will recognize, such as YouTube and Flickr.

The four steps below walk you through the process of searching for images, choosing images, and giving appropriate credit.

1. Use Creative Commons to search for images. Get into the habit of using Creative Commons Search to locate images. You can filter for items that you can use commercially or for items that you can modify. You can also filter by specific platform.

2. Make locating the licensing information for each image part of your process. Remember, the images are not necessarily free to use. Check each image for how it is licensed. The location of the license depends on the platform, but generally speaking, you should be able to find it below the image.

3. Get to know the Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses give specific guidance on how that image can be used. A license may include elements that do not allow for modification (noderivatives), forbid reuse for commercial purposes (noncommercial), or require that you share the new work in which you have included the image (share alike). The only license that does not require attribution is CC0, in which licensors waive their rights to the work, similar to how we might cite something as part of the public domain.

4. Include image attributions in all of your materials. Best practices for attribution direct us to include four items: title, author, source, and license. We should also hyperlink back to the source of the image, the author’s page, and include a link to the Creative Commons license as part of the attribution.

Here’s an example.

Photographer Through the Camera Lense by Photos by Lanty is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Will educators continue to use images they should not be using in their materials without too much thought of retribution? Of course. However, now we have a few simple steps to incorporate into our creative process to improve our copyright skills, model best practices for each other and our students, and, ultimately, help our students consider copyright as part of who they are as creators. Know better; do better.

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