Cross Post: If you want kids to really understand copyright, they need to learn to create and remix #coetail


Image by author (source Class Flickr Account)

I come from a family with strong links to creative industries. My father has worked in film for over three decades, my brother is in film and my sister is a graphic designer by trade.

Copyright for my family isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s one that has a real impact on our lives. My father is ‘old school’ quite rightly pointing out that breaches of copyright financially cripple the people who are professionally creating media that we mass consume.

Meanwhile, my brother is quite happy to download and remix.

Same industry, same family, very different viewpoints on copyright.

Lawrence Lessig would argue this is a generational divide. The bulk of dad’s creative work was in the 20th century Read Only Culture while my brother is a product of the 21st century Read/Write internet culture.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Lessig speak at Nethui in New Zealand. He argued that  the internet culture enables kids can take and remix culture so they do. As they do, they feel entitled and that entitlement brings about massive social change. (1)

This has far-reaching implications for education. Open content has the potential to turn our educational institutions, particularly at tertiary level, on their heads.

But there are some downsides to free and open content even in the uneasy grey areas that exist in our current climate.

The film Copyright Criminal looks at the issue of music sampling where a few sounds or portions of a song are remixed to record a different song in its place. While there are financial implications for artists, there also issues of attribution. As Clyde Stubblefield, who is said to be the most sampled drummer in the world, points out it is a lack of recognition for original artists is a big problem.

Education is not immune to breaking copyright and not all teachers uphold principles of academic honesty to the same standard. In the old days, it was the photocopier that copied portions of books, magazines and newspapers far exceeding the ‘educational use’ allowance. Now it’s the internet where teachers can download images, music, movie clips, entire worksheets and remix lesson plans without permission or attribution.

Image by author

I often wonder about the legality of sites like Teachers Pay Teachers where educators can sell lesson plans and classroom resources they’ve created for a fee. In a lot schools it is the employers that own any intellectual property created by teachers even if they are creating their content after hours. Teachers who are using a school-provided laptops to create resources they then on-sell would likely be on shaky ground (2).

So if our own profession hasn’t figured out copyright how the heck are we going to get the kids to start thinking about the effects of using without paying either in monetary terms or recognition? Especially when the kids we teach live in a society where the pervasive message since Napster arrived in the late 1990s is that any content is there for the taking.

The answer is in creation.

I’ve blogged for a number of years and do so mainly for my own enjoyment. However like other bloggers I feel annoyed and upset when other people pass off content I’ve created as their own. Yet it took an interaction between kids for me to realise that these experiences could be easily utilised into powerful classroom lessons around creative ownership.

Last term the children in my class took party in a photography project showcasing Singapore. As part of the project, they decided to turn their field trip experience into a kids travel guide for Singapore.

Each child wrote about a different part of Singapore and used pictures from the trip to enhance their words. As the children went about choosing images to go with their writing, several realised that they hadn’t created photos to help them tell their story.

Yet there were images that the kids could use.


Image by Year4GNexus Source: Flickr

My class operates a Flickr account and I told the kids they could use photos from the account. The kids each have their own folder on the account but we also have shared photos for group projects and school events. Along with student created images, I also contribute photos and several parents have added photos to our account.

The photos from the class field trip were stored in a folder where anyone in the class could download images onto their iPad. Sure enough, arguments between kids broke out about who created individual photos and children were upset that others in the class were using photos they had created in their own chapters without permission.

Teachable moment.

After a lengthy discussion, the class decided that they needed to be more mindful of how they stored images on their iPad to ensure they knew which images they had created and which ones their iPad buddies had captured (3).

Moreover they decided if they were going to use a picture from another photographer they would need to ask the photographer’s permission first.

In that moment copyright came alive in the classroom.

The creator was in the room, not some abstract person in a far away land. By placing images of Flickr the children were able to create, share and remix their learning easily but they also had to be mindful of the effect of their decisions to use other people’s creations in their own work. Using images without permission in class was suddenly a big deal and the consequences were immediate when a potentially upset creator was sitting just a few meters away.

Traditionally the teaching of copyright has largely focused on lectures. Modelling acceptable online behaviour may go part of the way to helping kids understand and respect intellectual property. But it is not enough. Given the pervasive nature of remix culture, this is the digital equivalent of shouting into the wind. If children, particularly younger children, are really going to empathise with creators of digital content and uphold principles of academic honesty the conversations need to be authentic.

If you want the students you teach to really understand the principles of intellectual property, teach them to become creators and remixers of their own content. Not passive recipients of one-off lectures and lessons created by someone else.

As the class is going through the process of publishing their travel book, one of the children wanted to know who would own the copyright on their creation.

Good question…

Image by author source: Class flickr account

(1) Lessig gave a superb keynote at Nethui, InternetNZ‘s internet conference a few years ago. You can watch the lecture here, here and here.

(2) My previous school was one of the first in New Zealand to adopt a creative commons policy. The school’s board of trustees ‘gifted’ teachers their intellectual property.

(3) An ongoing issue for a class with shared iPads.

from Teaching the Teacher

One thought on “Cross Post: If you want kids to really understand copyright, they need to learn to create and remix #coetail

Add yours

  1. I am in total agreement with you : in order to help the students and teachers understand the rights of creators they need to identifty as creators themselves. Licensing their work according to their wishes is part of this process. Your serendipitous activity was funny and well captured.


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