Thursday, February 01, 2007

Creative Commons in Education

Note: This post deals explicitly with US Law, but many of the same principles apply in other countries and international jurisdictions. The Creative Commons website allows users to select their jurisdiction from a drop-down menu in the upper right hand corner.

Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright has always been a sticky subject for educators. The demands of the classroom and the scarcity of resources available in schools have often been barriers to legally obtaining the right to use copyrighted media for teaching and learning. Today, the relative ease of access to greater and greater volumes of media available online makes it even more tempting for teachers to ignore copyright law and fair use guidelines. However, it is important for educators (and their students) to understand and respect the fair use guidelines. Luckily, there are new alternatives to traditional copyright that can help simplify the situation.

First, though, it is important to understand copyright law and the traditional fair use guidelines. Copyright is a deliberately grey area of the law, enforced through the subjective judgments of juries and judges in the court system. There are, however, four guidelines that the courts will consider when judging wether a particular case represents fair use or an infringement on the owner's copyright. Stanford University Libraries provide a detailed overview of fair use and of additional guidelines for educational fair use. A very clear discussion can also be found in the Wikipedia article on Fair Use.

Beyond the scope of these guidelines it is best for educators to contact the copyright holder and ask permission to use the desired material in the classroom. Conversely, if a teacher is posting original material (either self-produced or created by students) online, the teacher may want to give permission for others to use the material for educational purposes. (Otherwise, by default, any new creative work is automatically copyrighted.) Thankfully, it's no longer necessary to either ask for or give permission on a case-by-case basis... if you are using the Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons

Using the Creative Commons (CC) license, educators and students can "Share, reuse, and remix — legally." In essence:
Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."

Creative Commons allows authors and artists to allow certain uses of their work. It also allows others to easily identify work that they have permission to use. The Creative Commons website provides tools to accomplish both of these functions...

First, if you are creating instructional materials for your students, or you want them to access media to include in their own assignments and projects, click on "Find CC Licensed Work" in the upper right hand corner of the Creative Commons home page. This CC Search allows you to search Google, Yahoo, flickr (a photo sharing service), (a video sharing service), and OWL Music for media that has been released under a Creative Commons license by its owner. You can even limit your search to works you are free to modify, adapt, or build upon so that you and your students can create new works (such as a class podcast) and release them online - legally. Note, though, that these search results will be no more or less filtered for appropriateness than they are at those services' home pages. You may want to supervise student use of this search tool.

Second, if you and your students are creating media (such as podcasts) that you are posting online, you might consider releasing it under a CC license yourself. (You may actually have to if you use CC licensed material that requires you to share-alike.) To get started, click on "License Your Work" in the upper right hand corner of the Creative Commons home page. Answer the few questions about how you want to share your work, what jurisdiction you're in, and the format of your work. The system will automatically choose the appropriate license (using combinations of four different conditions: Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works, and Share Alike).


All CC licenses require that users give attribution in the manner specified by the author or licensor. In the absence of specific directions, Alan Levine's concept of linktribution is a good rule of thumb to follow. When you give credit to an original author or artist, link back to the original work (if it is online) or to the original author's homepage (or blog) and be sure to include their name in the link. This not only provides attribution (and an easy way for others to find the original source), it is also motivating to the original author or artist because it increases their web traffic and improves their ranking in search engines.

Open Content

The CC license is not the only license that provides and protects "open" content. The General Public License has protected open source software and documents since 1989.

An increasing amount of software, media, and information are available online under these two licenses. For instance, the MIT Open CourseWare project is released under the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, as is the ITM (see the bottom ofLink this page). I now share all my workshop materials using an Attribution-ShareAlike license. And now you and your students can begin contributing your work to the greater good as well.

Note: Lucie deLaBruere wrote about the Creative Commons license in her post, Why Do People Share? on November 13, 2006. Also, I'm indebted to Hall Davidson of Discovery Education and Janet English of KOCE for my understanding of copyright law and fair use. Their presentations on the subject have been excellent - and entertaining.
Finally, I'd like to think Alan Levine and a reader called Rom for leaving comments on my previous post and thus inspiring this one.

Image credit: Creative Commons Spectrum of Rights.