Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Student Copyright Issues

If you have seen the title of this post in your reader and have dropped by to hear yet another take on what to do about students downloading music and demonstrating their mastery of a slick copy/paste technique, then you have been misled. I have been musing over the past couple of months about student rights over their own 'images and schoolwork' once it is published. A few happenings and conversations have got me thinking about this.

eg. I received an email from a non-teacher type who just happened to have been at some education conference recently and in passing mentioned that we would be proud of the work students at your school are producing because this writer had seen a couple of presenters showing our kids' work posted online as examples of points they were making in their presentations.
My initial response was along the lines of, "Wow, that's great to hear that others are appreciating the work the kids are publishing." But soon came the thought, but it's not me who should be hearing this - it's the creators of the content. It takes hours to put together a presentation for a conference, but would take less than five minutes to leave a quick message on a kid's blog to say that you would like to use their work and show it to an adult audience. Imagine how affirming that would be for the kids AND it would model fair use and digital citizenship to them at the same time.

It is particularly difficult for non-classroom teachers to access examples of student content to use in presentations so we inevitably end up showing work created by students who we don't work with. And what I have discovered is that under New Zealand copyright law the students own the work, and so deserve to be informed if not directly asked, when their work is used by others. I am obviously not a lawyer, but take a look at the Guidelines for Schools for the online publication of student images and schoolwork and check out this Ministry of Education publication, particularly where it deals with student copyright issues.

It is not just other educators who can overlook who has copyright to student work either. As classroom teachers we can spend long hours supporting, monitoring, tweaking and fixing up student online content and can justifiably feel a strong degree of ownership of the work published by our classes, but actually it is owned by the students and their parents/guardians. Whether it is simply their writing typed up in a post, images in a slideshow or complex 3D animations or movies - it all belongs to the students.

Which brings me round to some of the questions I have been asking in earlier posts on this blog; if the students own this content, who is taking care that policies are in place to ensure that students can have content removed if they no longer want it online or don't want it in a particular space online? What record does the school management have of where content is being posted and the user names and passwords to manage it if the teacher moves on or loses interest in that space. Does the student's copyrighted content then become cyber-junk? This means the ability to access (as an administrator) student content posted online should not remain solely with one teacher.

My boss, who always likes to bring the virtual world issues into perspective by comparing them to 'old school' issues, reckons student copyright is no different from how it used to be with school books and projects; we all can remember teachers who wanted to keep a brilliant science fair project or fabulous piece of student art work to show to the next year's class as an exemplar. They had to ask the student for permission to do this because they clearly owned it (though in many science fair projects there is often a fair degree of parent ownership!). And so it should be no different with online content.

It is an interesting read to find out about student copyright issues and wonder how often their rights are being overlooked. One clause that should be fairly obvious is the right of the student "to object to derogatory treatments of their work" - make you think twice before you publishing their work on some sites wouldn't it! Another issue arising from this is creative commons, which I am sure most readers here would think is a good innovation. But, as teachers we don't have the right to apply a creative commons license to the work of students - they would have to (with their parents if they are primary or intermediate age).

Hard to teach them to do (copy-)right by others if we are not doing right by them in the first place isn't it!

The need to consider the Copyright Act 1994 - from the MoE booklet
Schools often wish to publish on the Internet original material that students create at school, including artwork and text material such as stories, poems, and other literary work. Material such as this, created by students, attracts protection as copyright works under the Copyright Act 1994. The students each own the copyright in their own artistic and literary works. Schools do not own the copyright in students' schoolwork unless it is legally transferred to the school.