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Copyright and fair use

As we embrace new media, digital literacy and online technologies, and as we develop skills and habits of learning with new publishing media, it is important to consider how to best represent and share these artefacts across the world. Copyright and plagiarism refers to respecting others' intellectual property rights and reflecting on the legality and ethics of using online materials without permission bounded by 'fair use' guidelines.

All learners – educators and students – need to know about copyright laws, fair use guidelines, Creative Commons, intellectual property and citing sources. This is important because of legal requirements and also for ethical use of other people's creations for our own work. The fact that images, videos, text and other 'mashed up' artefacts appear online means they can usually be downloaded or shared – but ease of access does not mean 'free to use how and when you wish'. This is an important concept that relates to certain ethical practices educators should be modeling as well as teaching their students.


Working or learning 'behind a wall' using school-based platforms and not in a public forum is no excuse for not learning and understanding the essentials of good practice copyright and fair use. Globally there are laws to prevent piracy and theft of intellectual property, including online and digital work. Some countries of course are better at enforcing these laws than others, however as digital learners within a digital learning environment we need to do the best we can to uphold a moral and ethical approach at all times.

There is nothing more upsetting than seeing your own work used by someone else without credit back to the original author (even if by default with no malice intended). The more you share and publish online the more chance there is of this happening. 

Things to consider

When setting up an online connection and collaboration make sure there is an agreed understanding on using non-copyright material, and also encourage student artefacts to be labelled with a licence that allows for further educational use. A Creative Commons (CC) license covers anything that copyright covers. It allows owners of the work to exercise their rights in more ways and more simply. It's about creativity and connection as well as access and control. Moving away from thinking about 'content' to thinking about 'community', the sharing these licenses provide allows communities to come together.

There are three simple things to remember about using a Creative Commons licence:

  • Commercial use – or not?
  • Derivative works – or not?
  • Sharealike – if I take your stuff do I have to offer it to the next person under the same terms?

Find the license you need through the Creative Commons Choose a License tool.

The use of images by students warrants special mention here. It is not sufficient to search Google images and take anything that looks good. Careful use of search filters that bring forward non-copyright material in conjunction with using citations is encouraged at all times. There are many online tools that provide quick and easy copyright free images and many people who share their knowledge about this such as Seiter (2014). Compfight is a reliable image finding tool. When you search for something make sure 'Creative Commons' in the LH menu is selected AND do not use the top 23 rows of images as these are from Stockphoto and need to be purchased! See more suggestions for finding images to used and shared freely in the Resources section. Another approach of course is to take your own images – and encourage students to take pride in developing skills in this area. Original material is always fun to share, and don't forget to put a CC licence on it!

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