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You’re working in your classroom and doing the best you can for your students on a very limited budget most likely!  What’s the big deal if you take whatever you can find if it helps your students with a concept?  Most of the time as a teacher you do have a lot of leeway in regards to copyright, but where is the line that changes from just trying to help, to breaking the law? As teachers, we need to be positive, ethical role models for our students and to do this we must model the best ethical practices. If we ask them not to plagiarize and cheat from the internet, we can’t be doing it either!

How can you protect yourself so that you can stay compliant and still utilize every resource you can find?

In the classroom, a teacher is generally protected by the “fair use” guidelines of copyright. Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

From 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.

So while you are in the classroom with your group of students you pretty much have free rein on what you can use to help them learn concepts. This means the use of books, lyrics, videos, etc. Of course, you will want to make sure the materials you are using aren’t themselves copyright infringements. You don’t want to benefit from stolen work! Make sure you use the original source, for example, a clip from a movie that you have legally purchased vs. a pirated clip from a website or a TpT product you purchased, not one that was improperly shared around the school for free.

So where does a teacher lose that fair use?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that you cannot place copyrighted work on the internet where it can be shared in a google search. So it’s okay to use within the walls of your classroom, but once you start to share it on the internet you are falling into a shady gray area that could hold some fairly hefty monetary punishments.

Any site that you upload to MUST be a password-protected site. You cannot create an open teacher/classroom webpage and start placing copies of resources (textbook publisher, TpT purchases, copies of novels for students to read, song lyrics, etc) there for students to access at home unless it is password-protected. If it’s not password-protected even if you aren’t linking to the site anywhere it gets picked up in general Google searches and is then available for the world. You’ve moved from a teacher with wonderful intentions to an internet pirate!

Most textbooks publishers and teacher authors have a Terms of Use (TOU) page within their resource that gives guidelines on how and where their work can be shared. It is always best to read these and abide by them to model good ethical standards for your students and to cover yourself from any unwanted legal and financial issues!

I know that 99.9% of the teachers out there putting items on the internet have no idea that they are making them available to the world. They think they are just uploading them to their personal classroom page and that only their students and parents will ever look there. Teachers as a group are generous and honest and want to make access as easy for their students and parents as possible. Hopefully, this post will help guide you so you can stay compliant and model the best practices for your students. In this world of constant teacher bashing, we need to be cautious to keep the honesty and integrity in the industry.