Copyright Confusion Conquered

Teaching concepts of copyright and fair use to teens – or anyone – has been a challenge for me for years.  I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it is complicated or because no one really every wants to hear that they can’t do something that they want to do.  Perhaps because I didn’t understand it well enough myself to explain it to others.  In any case, with multimedia projects on the rise, I wanted to be sure that I taught my twelve tablet campers how to stay within the bounds of copyright as we learned how to edit images, create slide shows, and use Premier.  I also wanted to keep in mind my vow to find ways to let students discover things on their own.   The lesson outlined below was by far the most successful one that I’ve ever used and took approximately 45 minutes.

Students will need internet access.

Step One: Independent Exploration: Using Specified sites to answer questions.

  • Students should visit
  • The should jot answers to the following questions.  I had them use OneNote on their new tablets to do this as practice with OneNote, but paper will also work fine.

    • When is something copyrighted?

    • Do you own the copyright on anything?

    • If something is on the Internet, does that mean you can always use it?

    • Read the following scenarios and decide if taking the action described is allowed by copyright laws and fair use guidelines.

      • Making a copy of a CD for a friend.

      • Using pictures you took on a family trip to Washington, D.C. in a school project.

      • Using images of three paintings by Monet in a school project.

      • Using a whole song by your favorite singer in a slide show for class.

      • Writing a parody of a song from your favorite band.

Step Two: Discussion

    Discuss each scenario taking time to explain fair use and public domain.

Step Three: How to find things you are allowed to use – Creative Commons

Step Three – Use it.

  • Give students a specific multimedia task that requires a particular type of license and have them find media that meets their needs:
    • A picture that can be used, unedited, in a presentation.
    • A picture that can be edited and used.
    • A video that can be edited as part of a video project.

We did this lesson on Wednesday, and followed it by using various media that fit the licensing needs to complete multimedia projects.  Students seemed to have a clear grasp on how to locate public domain and creative commons usable media and to understand the limitations and opportunities of fair use, as well as why it is important.



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