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.


  1. Two questions come immediately to mind on reading your post.
    What is the life span of a post on a blog? If a child/student's work is posted, how long will it be available to view? Can work be taken down, and if it can, is that something teachers &/or schools can take responsibility for?
    And the other question is: Is it possible to control what happens to work once it is posted? People can copy so easily. It seems to come down to courtesy and ethical consideration, if people are to acknowledge other's copyright.
    The points you raise are certainly important. I'll be interested to follow the discussion. Tina Donnell

  2. Always taking it to the next level Dorothy. Brilliant. What better way to consider audience possibilities than to see people want to take your work and share it beyond your own reach.
    Your boss has the right idea. I like that when we go back to familiar issues in the past, the core value conflicts remain unchanged. It makes decisions much easier.. and often more frustrating! How we allow, (and even buy into!) the digital world's capacity to blur the boundaries of value decisions that used to seem more clear cut.

  3. @room2 The lifespan of a post on a blog is an interesting discussion point. 'The Blue Book' is mention was published pre-Web2 in 2000 and suggests material should be removed when a student leaves the school. However, now we have entered the age of ePortfolios, amongst other things, that answer is too simple. Part of the answer lies in an earlier post I made this month; Purpose and Community. If part of the purpose was to contribute to a lifelong positive digital footprint, then why would you take it down? And if the community is behind that it's straight forward.
    The school MUST take responsibility for student work published while at school. So thought should have been given to what happens when a student leaves the school and just as importantly, when a teacher leaves the school.
    Short answer to can you control it once posted? No. You can make it difficult for people to access/copy etc, but few schools have the technical capability of protecting it from ever possibly being downloaded etc. And if you shut it away completely, then you would have to ask why you bothered posting it in the first place? Why not put it on a CD?
    Can't be defeatist though about teaching the kids we work with to be ethical and couteous :)
    Da boss has a whole raft of 'old school' analogies to roll out when people raise online issues. Seems to feel that old-fashioned ethics and courtesy will take you anywhere in life.
    I have got very interested in the whole thinking around kids as the copyright owners of their own digital work though. I know I have offended over the years, and need to sharpen my act there.

  4. Wow. 1994 clearly in lieu of any other updated document means that the students own the work... which I would suggest would ensure that every school has a good look at their ICT policies to ensure that they are up to date and also relevant particularly about this issue. One thing that I have brought up before as someone who has put footage of sports games up online and other schools involved as well (for instance Rugby) there was no way that I had individual permission from all the players present to use their image, that could be something that would need to be re-thought. Certainly there is a whole issue of cyber junk or space-waster around that is not relevant, surely someone has to clean it up eventually. Perhaps if its not visited in a certain time frame then google could delete. Would love to hear your thoughts at some point Dorothy about the age restrictions/age recommendations for online material (blogger) and its implications for online work. Great stuff as always.

  5. @Myles Thanks for the reflections. You are quite correct that there is no obvious solution to the sports videography as I haven't seen anyone address it either. We take it for granted that OUR team is covered (if we have permissions given etc) but the opposition are another story again. I guess that fact that you are not giving any names at all for individuals in the opposition is a good starting place. I wonder if we should have a blanket disclaimer form on hand at all the matches we film? I would hope things don't come to that, but in the meantime I would suggest that we all refrain from naming individuals in the opposition and edit the close-up shots carefully.
    The age restrictions should not be an issue if schools/teachers are following the policy of only teachers signing up to online sites either as their own school email address or under a class name eg room19@ . These domain name accounts are 'owned' by the BOT and adults. If you go back to the 'real world' comparison and see taking the kids online in the same way we view EOTC in the real world, then there are a whole lot of issues that just fall into the 'what is sensible' category :)
    The 1994 copyright Act is under review, but when I asked at Netsafe about how it would impact student ownership they thought (without consulting lawyers) that it wouldn't. The downloading of commercial videos, music etc will impact our schools no doubt.