While working in your classroom, striving to support your students with limited resources, you might wonder about the boundaries when using available materials to aid their understanding. As educators, we often have flexibility within copyright guidelines, yet it’s crucial to discern when our actions might breach legal boundaries. Our responsibility is to set a positive ethical example for our students. Just as we discourage plagiarism and cheating, we must uphold the same standards ourselves.

How can teachers safeguard themselves while ensuring compliance and making the most of available resources?

In educational settings, teachers often benefit from the “fair use” principles outlined in copyright law. This doctrine allows the use of copyrighted materials without a license in specific situations to encourage freedom of expression.

According to the copyright.gov site, “Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.”

While teaching a class, you typically have considerable freedom in choosing educational materials to aid learning, such as books, lyrics, or videos. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the materials you use don’t infringe on copyrights. Avoid benefiting from stolen work by using original sources. For instance, utilize a legally purchased movie clip rather than a pirated one from a website. Similarly, use purchased educational resources like TpT products rather than improperly shared versions.

At what point might a teacher overstep the bounds of fair use?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) explicitly prohibits the posting of copyrighted material on the Internet where it could be accessed through a general search. While using such content within your classroom is permissible, sharing it online ventures into a legally ambiguous space that could result in significant financial penalties.

Any material uploaded online must be on a password-protected platform. Creating an open webpage for your class and placing resources like textbook excerpts, TpT purchases, novels, or song lyrics for students to access at home is prohibited unless it’s protected by a password. Unprotected content, even if not linked anywhere, can be indexed in general searches, inadvertently making it available worldwide. This shifts a teacher’s well-intentioned act into the realm of internet piracy.

Most textbook publishers and teacher authors have a Terms of Use (TOU) section within their resources, outlining sharing guidelines. It’s crucial to read and adhere to these guidelines, both to demonstrate ethical standards to students and to safeguard against potential legal repercussions.

The vast majority of teachers sharing materials online may not realize they’re making them accessible to a wider audience beyond their students and parents. Teachers are generally generous and honest, aiming to facilitate easy access for their students and families. Hopefully, this information helps in navigating compliance and sets a standard of best practices. In an environment where teachers often face unwarranted criticism, preserving honesty and integrity within the profession is essential.