K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC and Creative Commons

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  • Copyright for educators: Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This article explains copyright and U.S. copyright law primarily with respect to education.
  • Using the multimedia library: Guidelines and instructions on finding and using images, audio, and video in the LEARN NC multimedia library.
  • Fair use: Fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose...

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Few changes have been as pronounced in the past decade as the shift from text-heavy content to messages delivered visually. Pairing increasingly sophisticated mobile devices with high-speed connections to the Web and cheap personal video and photography equipment, today’s Internet users have led a visual content revolution. Video sharing sites like YouTube see millions of visitors every month and hours of new content uploaded every minute.1 More than 85 percent of all connected Americans watch online video, averaging an astounding 182 unique views per user each month.2 Pair that with the 4 billion images that have been uploaded to the popular photo sharing site Flickr and the 300 million new video game systems sold in America every year, and it becomes obvious that we’re simply swimming in a world of visuals.3

Our students have joined in as active participants in this visual revolution. They’re using cell phones to capture pictures and videos. They’re remixing videos found online and uploading new, original versions to the Web. They’re combining favorite audio tracks with collections of images to create interesting final products designed to entertain their peers or impress their teachers — and in the process, they’re joining the 50 percent of online Americans sharing user-generated images and 20 percent of online American sharing user-generated videos each month.4

The hitch is this: Our students are also generally careless in using images, audio tracks, and videos created by others fairly. Having had easy access to multimedia content for their entire lives, students rarely understand that the same copyright protections they’ve learned to respect when working with text-based materials apply to new media creations as well. Instead of working to establish ownership and asking for permission to use this kind of content, most students simply search topics and download the best sources that they can find.

The Creative Commons

Even more interesting is the fact that the creators of new media works are often far more flexible than traditional content creators have ever been! Inspired by the open-source software movement, thousands of photographers, videographers, and musicians have embraced the Creative Commons. Founded in 2001, the Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and remix content in ways that respect the wishes of the original owner. In less than a decade, over 130 million works ranging from photos and videos to blog entries and textbooks have been made available under one of six basic Creative Commons licenses:

Attribution
The least restrictive of the Creative Commons licenses, content licensed Attribution can be used freely for any purpose and/or remixed into new final products as long as the initial author, artist, or musician is given credit for their original work. Attribution remains a fundamental part of every Creative Commons license.
Attribution Share Alike
Much like work licensed Attribution, Attribution Share Alike content can also be used freely for any purpose and/or remixed into new final products. The key difference is that any new content produced must also be licensed in the same way. Share Alike licenses promote the continued growth of the Creative Commons collection.
Attribution No Derivatives
Attribution No Derivatives is a more restrictive Creative Commons license. Works licensed No Derivatives can be freely displayed and distributed for any purpose but only in their original form. Remixing No Derivative content into new final products or editing No Derivative content in any way is not allowed.
Attribution Non-Commercial
As long as the original content creator is given credit, work released under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license can be freely redistributed and/or remixed into new final products for non-commercial purposes only.
Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
Combining elements of the Share Alike and Non-Commercial licenses, content released under Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike licenses can be redistributed and/or remixed into new final products for any non-commercial purpose as long as the new product is licensed in the same way. Like Attribution Share Alike licenses, Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike licenses help to encourage the continued growth of the Creative Commons.
Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
The most restrictive of the six basic Creative Commons licenses, content released under Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licenses cannot be used for commercial purposes and cannot be remixed into any new final products. The work must remain unchanged and credit must be given to the original author of the piece.

Finding licensed content

Teaching students to take advantage of work licensed under the Creative Commons begins in the same place that their research always seems to start: with Google. Understanding that their users — particularly students working on school projects — are often looking for content that is free for reuse and/or remixing, Google has added filters to their search results that align nicely with the licenses offered by the Creative Commons. To apply these filters, simply click the “Advanced Search” link found next to any Google Search box. Then, use the drop-down menu found beside “Usage Rights” at the bottom of the Advanced Search page to identify content that aligns with your intended use. Google has even translated the complex Creative Commons licenses into four simple phrases:

  • Free to use or share
  • Free to use or share, even commercially
  • Free to use, share or modify
  • Free to use, share or modify, even commercially

There are also several growing collections of Creative Commons content that can be found online. Some of the most popular include:

Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr has rapidly become the most popular photo sharing site on the Web. In the interest of protecting the ownership rights of its users, Flickr recently added the ability to label images under each of the six main Creative Commons licenses. Users who visit the Flickr Creative Commons collection can quickly search by license and find millions of interesting, high-quality images to add to their final products. While Flickr is likely to be blocked by most district firewalls, teachers interested in promoting the responsible use of images can easily download collections of Creative Commons images connected to the curriculum for their students to use in ongoing projects.
Wikimedia
Despite its reputation as an unreliable source, Wikipedia was one of the first sites to begin to use Creative Commons licenses primarily because establishing ownership of content created collectively by groups of volunteers is simply impossible. Wikimedia — Wikipedia’s ever-growing image collection — has followed the same pattern. Users regularly add photographs from their personal collections to articles and then license those images under Creative Commons licenses. What makes Wikimedia particularly valuable to school teachers is that it is rarely blocked by district firewalls.
Morguefile
Another impressive collection of still images, Morguefile has an interesting twist: Users are invited to use any image in the Morguefile collection for any purpose as long as it is remixed before being reused. Simply republishing the file on a stand-alone basis without alteration is not allowed unless that permission is specifically granted by the original photographer. Like Wikimedia, Morguefile is a valuable resource for classroom teachers because it is rarely blocked by district firewalls.
Garageband
Driven by music, today’s students are likely to quickly fall in love with Garageband, the best source for audio tracks licensed under the Creative Commons. Designed to raise the profile of new bands trying to score contracts from record labels, Garageband has literally thousands of songs by bands in almost every genre. While users have to sign up for a free account before they can download songs — and while bands can set permissions for the use of any track — Garageband remains a valuable source for interesting music that can be used in student-generated projects.
CCMixter
CCMixter — a community exploring sound together — is one of the most interesting Creative Commons experiments. Not only are users able to download a wide variety of instrumental music tracks and interesting sound effects for use in almost any final product, they are also encouraged to remix content posted by others and to share new versions of popular tracks. While CCMixter will serve as a valuable source of sound for your students, it may be even more valuable as an example of the true spirit of the Creative Commons in action.
YouTube
Like Flickr, YouTube realized that many of their users — particularly universities and other educational institutions — were willing to make their content freely available under Creative Commons licenses. While the YouTube search options do not allow users to automatically filter results by license — a strange gap in functionality considering that YouTube is owned by Google — any video that is available for download will clearly state the conditions for reuse.

Summing up

The chances are good that if you’ve been working in the classroom for any length of time, you’ve developed a solid collection of lessons designed to introduce students to the concepts that surround copyright law. The chances are also good that your students have a fundamental understanding of the role that copyright plays in protecting text. Few recognize, however, that those same protections apply to any content posted online — and even fewer are familiar with the changing concepts of “fair use” introduced by the Creative Commons.

Taking the time to introduce Creative Commons licenses and warehouses to your students will ensure that they have the knowledge and tools to act responsibly and respect the ownership rights of every content creator.