Copyright and Creative Commons

Protection of intellectual property is taken very seriously in the United States. Copyright holders defend their rights quite vigorously and as a teacher, you should take seriously how both you and your student use others music, video, spoken and written words.

What exactly does Copyright mean?

Copyright protects the rights of any creator of content by giving in them the legal power to do with their works as they choose. Once you create an original work, you then have exclusive rights to sell, make copies, make other works based upon it, or place it on public display.

The types of original content protected by copyright laws includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain intellectual works. In addition, it can also be the assignments you create for a class you teach or the notes your students take in class.

That all sounds a bit daunting, however, there are some limitations to these rights. The limitation many educators care and impact the most are called Fair Use. We'll be covering that later. Copyright law, as it currently stands, is covered in
Title 17 of the United States Code.

For a lighthearted introduction to these concepts, let's check out A Fair(y) Use Tale video created by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University. This humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles uses sayings from our favorite Disney characters.

Visit the "Copyright Laws" Quest 1 on the 21things4students site which targets middle school students and where you can view videos, the Copyright Kids and Cyberbee sites, and take a copyright Quiz.


Take the TechLearning Copyright Quiz. Check your answers.

Plagiarism CheckersUse these tools to combat plagiarism.


Creative Commons

A fantastic alternative to restrictions of copyright is called a Creative Commons license. This license allows a content creator to give explicit permission to those wishing to use their intellectual property or original works in a way that respect the owners wishes and thus eliminates the need to contact the content creator.

  • Watch a video that gives a great description of the different types of CC licenses.


Learn to use Creative Commons , an alternative way to license your own work and select the rules about how your work can be used by others.

Your Turn

Use Creative Commons.org to create a license for the work you create in our class. If you are new to Creative Commons, click on "Licenses" and choose "About the Licenses" to learn more. When you are ready to create a license select "Choose a License" from the drop down menu. Click on the buttons to set the attributes for your license. Type in a name for your project and put your name (first name only or a secret code name) in the appropriate boxes. Click "Select License" at the bottom of the page when you are all set.

Fair Use

In general, educators apply what is called 'Fair Use' to much of the content used in their classrooms. This exception allows for copying of some copyrighted material that is done for a limited and transformative purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, Fair Use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

Fair use is also full of legal loopholes and stipulations. So again, instead of trying to describe what is there, please take a look at the
Stanford University What Is Fair Use webpage.

The TEACH Act of 2002

With all the restrictiveness of copyright, you are probably wondering what sorts of content you can put in your online or blended course. There is a remedy, however, meeting the requirements are a bit steep.


The Technology, Education And Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was signed into law by President Bush on November 2, 2002. The TEACH Act is the latest attempt by the U.S. Congress to remedy the discrimination faced by instructors and students in online or blended instruction. It is not the case that whatever the instructor can do in the face-to-face classroom the instructor can do in an online or blended course.


The TEACH Act remedies many of the inconsistencies in the 1978 Copyright Law in regards to the distance education classroom but still leaves a number of barriers for both instructors and students in the distance education classroom environment.


In lieu of trying to list all the caveats and intricacies of the TEACH act here, please read the Frequently Asked Questions located at the American Library Association.