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The Dilemma of Copyright & Digital Texts

The Dilemma of Copyright & Digital Texts

Written by Joseph Conroy
October 29, 2010

“Mr. Conroy, can you come over here a minute?” asked one of my sixth grade Language Arts students. “I can’t seem to save the image from this website to put into my digital story.” The student pointed to a picture of Kinga Ka, the tallest roller coaster in Six Flags Great Adventure, on the computer monitor.

I grabbed control of the mouse and attempted to right click “Save As,” only to learn that the image in question was embedded with Adobe Flash and could not be cut and pasted the usual way. Without any second considerations, I demonstrated a workaround: I used the Print Screen button to capture a screen shot, and then I edited the image through the Paint program included with Microsoft Windows. We then saved and inserted the edited image into the digital story my student was composing in Movie Maker. We outright ignored the extensive copyright notices written in fine print down in the footer of the website.

Without any comprehensive awareness of the legally reusable media already available on the Internet, I had resorted to a two-pronged approach of lifting copyrighted images directly from websites and blindly utilizing Google Images. Some time later, our district’s technology administrator blocked access to Google Images, severely limiting my options. I was running out of resources for digital media (as far as I was aware). I was desperate to find images, no matter the cost. At that time, I reasoned the educational ends justified the means, even if I was potentially breaking federal copyright law.

Perhaps my frustration was to blame? That’s an easy scapegoat. No. Rather it was misunderstanding, or rather, a lack of any understanding of how to navigate copyright law as my students and I acquired and used digital media. It had never crossed my mind that my workaround might have violated federal copyright laws. I was of the mindset that if digital media—images, video, audio—were openly viewable on the Internet, then they were free for the taking. Of course, this is far from the truth of the matter; the guidelines for re-purposing digital media in an educational setting are much more nuanced than my previously held assumptions.

Over the years, I’ve developed a better understanding of where my students can access copyleft friendly media, and how we can properly use copyrighted materials and respect intellectual property through fair use practices.  In the next few pages, accessible through the <page links> below, I share some of what I learned.

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