be legal and fair

Be Legal & Fair

Copyright image

Protection of intellectual property is taken very seriously in the United States. Copyright holders defend their rights quite vigorously and as a teacher, you should take seriously how both you and your students use music, video, spoken and written words that have been created by others. 

In this Thing you will learn about copyright, fair use, Creative Commons and the TEACH Act of 2002.

What exactly does Copyright mean?

Copyright protects the rights of any creator of content by giving them the legal power to do with their works as they choose. Once an original work has been created the owner then has the exclusive rights to sell, make copies, make other works based upon it, or place it on public display. (note: the work may belong to the employer depending on the employee's work contract) A person MUST have written permission to use a copyrighted piece of work from the creator/owner.

The type of original content protected by copyright laws includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain intellectual works. It can also include assignments you create for a class you teach or the notes your students take in class.

Take this copyright quiz as a pre-assessment before going any further to test your copyright IQ.    
When taking the quiz, make sure to click on Submit to see the correct answer then Next to go on to the next question. 

While this may sound a bit daunting, there are guidelines that allow educators to use copyrighted materials in the classroom. The guidelines are called Fair Use, which we'll be covering later. Copyright law, as it currently stands, is covered in Title 17 of the United States Code.

Watch this video to learn more about the three types of licenses for creative works; copyright, public domain and creative commons. 

Visit the Copyright Laws Quest 1 on the 21things4students site, which targets middle school students, where you can view videos, the Copyright Kids and Cyberbee sites, and take a copyright Quiz.

Creative Commons

CC (1)

An alternative to restrictions of copyright is called a Creative Commons license. This license allows a content creator to give explicit permission to those wishing to use their intellectual property or original works in a way that respects the owner's wishes and thus eliminates the need to contact the content creator for permission.

Instead of reading about Creative Commons, let’s watch a video that gives a great description of the different types of CC licenses. We also encourage you to visit Quest 3, Stop the Pirates on the 21things4students site.

Fair Use

 Fair Use

In general, educators apply what is called fair use to much of the content used in their classrooms. This exception allows for copying of some copyrighted material that is done for a limited and transformative purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

Fair use is also full of legal loopholes and stipulations. To further understand fair use, please take a look at the Stanford University What Is Fair Use webpage.

For a lighthearted introduction to these concepts, check out A Fair(y) Use Tale video created by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University. This humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles uses sayings from various favorite Disney characters.

Teach Act of 2002

With all the restrictiveness of copyright, you are probably wondering what sorts of content you can put in your online or blended course.  

"The Technology, Education And Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was signed into law by President Bush on November 2, 2002. The TEACH Act is the latest attempt by the U.S. Congress to remedy the discrimination faced by instructors and students in online or blended instruction. It is not the case that whatever the instructor can do in the face-to-face classroom the instructor can do in an online or blended course.

The TEACH Act remedies many of the inconsistencies in the 1978 Copyright Law in regards to the distance education classroom, but still leaves a number of barriers for both instructors and students in the distance education classroom environment."

To learn more read Frequently Asked Questions located at the American Library Association.  

Plagiarism Checkers and Writing Tools

Do you want to know if something is authentic or not? Use these resources to combat plagiarism. These resources are also useful for students to evaluate their own writing. 

1. Plagtracker

2. Grammarly

3. Edubirdie         

Check out the additional resources for Be Legal and Fair

Learning Objectives

After completing this Thing, the educator will:

  • Know the educational applications of copyright, creative commons, fair use, Teach Act and plagiarism checkers

  • Understand the appropriate use of digital material in the educational environment

  • Make connections with technology standards and best practice

  • Transfer the learning to professional practice by applying creative commons to the face of the classroom




21 Things Assignment:

1.  Go to the Creative Commons licensing site. You are going to add a Creative Commons license to your Face of Your Classroom environment (for an example check out the copyright on the bottom of the 21 Things site). Choose the license features that determine the permissions you would like to use for sharing your work. Once you have completed the process of creating your license, copy the embed code and paste it at the bottom of your website or blog page.

2.  Select a sample document or student work to upload and run through a plagiarism checker and/or writing tool. Create a thoughtful response of how using a tool such as this could change you and your student's writing in the classroom. Post this reflection in your Digital Portfolio. 

3. Take the very short survey giving feedback for this Thing.


Addressing the ISTE Standards For Educators


1c. Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.

2c. Model for colleagues the identification, exploration, 
evaluation, curation and adoption of 
new digital resources and tools for learning.

3a. Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community.
3b. Establish a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources and fosters digital literacy and media fluency.
3c. Mentor students in safe, legal and ethical practices with digital tools and the protection of intellectual rights and property.
3d. Model and promote management of personal data and digital identity and protect student data privacy. 


1. Summarizing and Notetaking;
2. Assigning Homework and Practice;
3. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizer



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