Houston Got Sued and Now You’re Freaking…

Before I was obsessed with the maker movement, I had another obsession. Copyright. I loved it (and still do). At one point, I even considered going to get my JD so I could be a copyright lawyer. (I change my mind a lot). Anyway…

#ICYMI, Houston ISD was sued and is now required to pay $9.2 million dollars in a settlement released earlier this week for violating copyright by copying study guides and disseminating them to the staff. Read the full story here.

Naturally, Twitter is ablaze with chatter about all the stuff we can’t do because of copyright. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re one of the many people who are now feeling scared and confused.

  • Did I violate copyright law?
  • What if I didn’t use the entire thing?
  • I thought our school had a license that let me do that?
  • It was already online.
  • I’m not sharing it anywhere else.

1. Breathe.

2. Know the law.

3. Recognize the misinformation.

Everything you’re asking are valid questions. And unfortunately none of those answers are clear cut. WHICH IS EXACTLY why everyone is so freaking confused. We educators like checklists. So that fact that Fair Use is flexible and up to an interpretation freaks people the hell out. Understandably so since you just learned that it cost a district $9.2 million dollars. But before you go pick up your copyright police badge, just chill and hear me out.

Houston ISD were knowingly violating copyright law and still did it. Their sole purpose in doing it was to avoid paying the copyright holder. Please don’t compare this to your 6th grader who wants to use a photo in her YouTube video about salamanders. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’m always happy for a piece of news to get copyright on everyone’s radar, but PLEASE don’t automatically assume that any media you’re using in your classroom is a violation.

I’m going to share a few of my favorite copyright resources. But first….

If you reference this document, STOP. It’s absolutely incorrect.

At the very bottom of the document is this disclaimer:
“There may be instances in which copying that does not fall within these guidelines stated [above] may nonetheless be permitted under the criterion of Fair Use”

This is a big deal people.

From the wise Dr. Kenneth Crews, Copyright Lawyer and Law Professor at Columbia University
“The documents created by these negotiated agreements give them “the appearance of positive law. These qualities are merely illusory, and consequently the guidelines have had a seriously detrimental effect. They interfere with an actual understand of the law and erode confidence in the law as created by Congress and the courts”

Okay…now for those resources.

At my very first conference EVER I watched Renee Hobbs speak and I was floored. Not only was she a dynamic presenter, but the information she was telling me was blowing my mind. She really shaped who I am as a librarian. Here I thought my job was to police my teachers and tell them all the crap they couldn’t do. (If you’re ever looking for a speaker for your conference, I highly recommend her). Her book Copyright Clarity is a book you absolutely must read.

Hobbs has also helped in the development of several Best Practices guides (included below). My favorite, the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education includes five principles and explains their limitations. There are a lot of real scenarios that you may encounter in the classroom which I found incredibly helpful.

My other favorite resources was a column in Library Media Connection. Each month, Carol Simpson would share “Copyright Question of the Month”. I would cut each one out and put them in a sleeve protector and put them in a 3 ring binder. They were an invaluable resource for all the “Can I do this?” questions. You may be able to find archived versions via the LMC website or via a database that includes the journal.

To make things easier for you, I created a Wakelet with my favorite Copyright Resources. I have a billion more bookmarked, but these are my favorites.

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