Copyright, plagiarism and school

It is interesting how copyright, free speech and plagiarism are connected. I don’t think I had thought about them as being in a package before. I am trying to make a diagram of it in my mind. I keep thinking back to Lawrence Lessig’s presentation that I’ve mentioned before. How do we balance free speech and free culture in an over copyrighted world? I think one our the cultural responses that we are seeing is that of less respect for copyright materials. People can readily download, cut and paste, manipulate and mash and re-broadcast materials. I had a teen tell me that she regularly views her favourite shows as a “fansub” on YouTube before they are released into the US market. I suspect that she is not aware that a “fansub” is in fact an illegal copy of the show. Is this a lack of respect or ignorance? I’ve read on my feed lately that the legal arm of the music companies are trying to pressure universities to take responsibility for the music being file shared through the univeristies’ computer systems. Yet Lessig mentions that file sharing is not actually taking much of a piece from the overall sales of the music industry. He seems to say that we need to rethink copyright. What implications does this have in school?

I teach in elementary schools. I have heard teachers say “Don’t ask me where I got it,” with regards to music used in assemblies or for phys.ed. As a potential teacher librarian, I feel I want to support the teachers’ use of materials in legal ways. I want us to be able to download and pay for the songs we want to use in class. But I also then wish to be able to use them in an assembly or class. From what I have read, using the song in an assembly is a public broadcast not covered under ‘fair use’ in Canada. This is ridiculous. How can I then say to teachers – I will help you get a legal copy of that music and then I will support you using it in an illegal fashion? If the rules are going to be that complicated and inappropriate,why buy the music to use in the first place if the end result is an illegal act anyway! It is frustrating. This is where I believe that Lessig is correct in asserting that the unregulated uses of material have been taken away. Playing music that I have purchased for a small school audience is great advertising for the music. Playing a song in school should be an acceptable, unregulated use of the material.

When this is our culture, cut and paste; download and view; copy and share, how do we reinforce the need to protect people’s intellectual property? In my class on Information Technologies for Learning, we are talking about plagiarism and its impact on schools. This may seem unrelated to the copyright and free speech discussion but they are woven together for me. I think the confusion on a societal level about unregulated uses, fair uses and copyright has contributed to the level of plagiarism that we see in our classrooms. If students see or participate in file sharing, regularly watch ‘fansubs’ and otherwise manipulate digital media in their ‘real’ lives, they will have difficulty seeing the problem with doing that for a school assignment.

We need to be planning projects and assignments which are difficult or impossible to cut and paste. There are many teachers and media specialists and teacher librarians working to make a change in what their students are doing and how they are doing it. I believe that when we begin to do things differently, we will see students who know how to show off their own intellectual property and credit the work of others. Clarence Fisher has talked about how teaching is changing for teachers working with digital tools. We aren’t just doing things differently; we are in fact doing different things. I think plagiarism and copyright and intellectual property are ideas which need to come home to schools. Just as I have taught my toddler that when she uses someone else’s toy she needs to ask first and then say thank you, I need to teach my students that when they use something on the internet for a source they need to check first and then if they have permission, say thank you by giving credit. When the process of giving credit becomes natural and easy, people will do it. If more students become aware of copyright, copyleft, creative commons and open source, then we will be on our way to freeing our society. I believe it is our job as educators to start to change society. Teaching students to share their work, give credit where credit is due and be creative with their assignments, hmmm, not a bad solution to plagiarism.



Filed under education, free speech, literacy, responsibility, teacher training

2 responses to “Copyright, plagiarism and school

  1. Helen

    I would like to use some of your ideas in my unit of work on plagiarism, as I am very new to all this. Firstly may I? Secondly how exactly do I cite or acknowledge your article? i.e besides your name and url and date you wrote the entry what if anything do I need to include. The comparison you use about your toddler and a toy is great as my middle school kids can relate to that.

  2. You may certainly use my article for your class. Standard APA citations (see below) for websites will work for the citation.

    Funk, S. Copyright, plagiarism and school. (publishing date). Retrieved (date you accessed my article) from

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