21st Century Citizenship-Everyone is a Copyright Holder | Print |
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“Every person who writes a document published on the internet, who creates a graphic or icon, who scans his own photograph or records his own voice into a digital file, who sends an electronic mail message, who creates a document for a newsgroup, or who designs a web page owns the copyright to his creative work.”

-Carol Simpson, “Copyright for Schools”
-Linworth Publishing

Back in 1996 the educators who hired me and the technologists with whom we consulted told me that everyone would soon be a publisher of content. They were correct. Blogs, wikis, social networks, digital cameras, video cameras and smart phones have made publishers of us all.

Recently in my copyright workshops, I have noticed that most attendees expect to hear what rights they have to use copyrighted works from publishers. Many of these attendees who are teachers, media specialists or technology coordinators have students who are doing video yearbooks, digital stories and news shows. The teachers themselves are typically creators of multimedia, curriculum and workshop materials both for inside and outside the classroom. This brings up some very important questions:

1) Who owns the publishing rights to student - produced videos and other media created by students?

2) Who owns the publishing rights of curriculum, media and workshop materials created by teachers and instructors?

As we seek the answers to these questions, let us review some recent occurrences.

First, I was recently giving a webinar and attendees were able to enter their questions in the chat field for me to answer. One of the participants in the webinar was a teacher who had attended a statewide technology conference and saw his information and resources being used by another teacher without his permission. The teacher who was violated was very upset, and as he mentioned in the webinar, he was not concerned about any financial compensation, but just wanted the credit acknowledging him as the creator of the materials.

Second, there is a video posted on CNN entitled, “My baby’s for sale?” In this CNN news piece, a mother tells her story about her baby’s picture being taken from the family blog by a scam adoption agency to use in the agency’s online promotions.

Third, I was recently asked this question. What if a student-produced video was used by a commercial organization for profit, thereby using the image of minors without the written consent of the parents or guardians for financial gain?

These are excellent questions. Let’s review the answers.

1)Who owns the publishing rights to student - produced videos and other media created by students?

Answer: It depends on the nature of the production. But let’s say it is a video yearbook that was produced by the media students at a high school. The contents of the video include video footage and pictures of the students, staff and other members of the community. The video also includes background music produced by the students.

The students of the school, the school entity and the parents of students who are minors own the copyright to the video so long as they acquired the necessary media permissions in writing from the parents and community members. (Please note that some district policies would entitle the district school board to part ownership).

In this case, the only way the owners could seek suit against a commercial organization using the video would be if their video was registered with the Library of Congress. (See this article on how to copyright your works).

2)Who owns the publishing and copyrights of curriculum, media and workshop materials created by teachers and instructors?

Answer: Let’s examine the case stated above of our webinar attendee. He had created the handouts and other resource materials at home on his own time and with his own equipment, so, he is the sole owner of the rights to his materials. If the violator who took his material were to be paid for using those works, the teacher who was violated would not have a case to collect damages without having a registered copyright of his works.

Now, about the mother whose baby’s photograph was stolen from their family blog. Currently, there is nothing you can do to prevent this. It’s up to the company or person who is seeking to use your media to contact you for the permission to use. As a citizen in our 21st century community, we can do our part by requesting such permissions in order to establish a more ethical approach and to set a good example.

To learn how to protect your works, here is an exercise with real-life applications.


Think about what you have created lately on your own time, with your own equipment and with your own intellectual property. This could be workshop materials, a video, a podcast or even a slideshow you have posted to the web.

Once you have identified a project or creation of which you are the sole-owner, and, have secured any other media permissions required, register your works with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. This link will not only provide instructions on how to copyright your works, but will also give examples s to the types of works you may copyright.

When you receive your registration certificate, frame it and place it in your office, at home, or in your classroom.

This is a great assignment for the video yearbook staff at your school. Imagine the walls of your studio or classroom filled with copyright registration certificates of which your students are the proud owners. This will also protect the students, the parents, the school and the school district from outside violators or misuse of their materials.



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