Each year, I train K-12 educators in issues relating to use of the Internet and copyright. I always warn them, I'm not a lawyer, but I do like to err on the side of caution when it comes to using materials I find online. I encourage them to do the same, for everyone's benefit.
I've produced this “Frequently Asked Questions” list as a helpful resource for teachers when they ask… “Can I do this?”
Can I print off a webpage and photocopy it for my students to read?
It depends. Likely not. Unless the document belongs to your own school, is marked with a Creative Commons license, or is in the public domain, you do not have the right to reproduce and re-distribute the webpage. Instead, provide a link to this resource and have students read it online.
Can I download YouTube videos (or from another site), store them on my computer, and use them in class?
This depends, too. YouTube isn't clear on this issue, as far as I could research. But they depend upon the ads on their site for revenue. When you download a video, and store it offline, you're skipping their ability to show you ads. I know, I'd like an ad-free world too, but that's how they pay their bills. Unless the video site allows an easy mechanism for video downloads, I wouldn't do it. Both Google Video and Vimeo, as two examples, do offer video downloads.
With fair use for teachers, I can use copyright material online, right, as long as give attribution—a citation?
No! Fair use does not apply to digital media protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Giving a citation has nothing to do with copyright or fair use. It's the right thing to do, but doesn't clear you for using copyright materials without permission.
How can I tell if I find something online–and if I can use it?
You can always find the content creator and ask! Otherwise, look for notices that promise the ability to share, re-distribute, etc. Or, look for a Creative Commons license. These allow specific uses of the work without having to consult with the original creator.
Is there a place I can find this “Creative Commons” stuff to use in class?
Yes! Go to http://creativecommons.org/ and search there, for video, audio, and photos.
My school subscribes to services with digital media. Can I use these?
Yes! The rights for use may vary, but services such as Grolier, United Streaming, etc., expect you to use their digital media. Just don't re-publish it (for free) on a website.
What if I find something really good… I found it at the NASA website. Can't I use these materials (to print? re-distribute?)?
Well, first, no. If something is copyright, you cannot use it without permission. Many times sites will give blanket permission for “educational purposes.” Sites like NASA, however, are public entities. As a general rule, .gov sites like these are sharing their content for educational use. It doesn't mean you can re-publish it on your own website, but you could link to it, copy-paste into a presentation, or into a research project. Check the specific site for details.
For more information, check out our Wiki page on copyright.