Addressing Two Common Copyright Misunderstandings

Long time followers of my blog know that over the years I have fought many many many battles with people who think it’s okay to republish my blog posts in their entirety without permission. I’ve been doing this for so long that at times I feel like I’m preaching to the choir.  Then at other times I feel like I’m yelling into a black hole while simultaneously ramming my head into a wall. Two incidents this week have brought these feelings roiling to the top. Rather than just vent, I’m going to try to turn these into teaching experiences by sharing them here on Free Technology for Teachers

Incident #1: A Plea for Help
On Monday I got the following email from a reader who was looking for my assistance. 

The media specialist at my school feels that it is OK to use images that have watermarks on them in her school news videos under the educational fair use copyright guidelines because they are not being used to make a profit nor are the images being distorted or changed.
Nevermind the fact that they should be using images from sites that have copyright free images for educational use, is she correct in her reasoning that she can use ANY picture, including ones with watermarks, under the educational fair use copyright guidelines?

Getting this message was worrying because a “media specialist” should have a much better understanding of copyright and fair use than was is portrayed in the message above. A quick look at Stanford University Library’s Measuring Fair Use should make it clear to the media specialist in question is absolutely wrong in her understanding of fair use. In short, unless the images the person is using are so unique that there is nothing else like them and she’s using them in a critique or as an instructive example (for example, explaining an aspect of a Picasso painting) that’s not fair use. 

Simply saying “I’m not making a profit from it” doesn’t mean it’s a fair use. The use has to also not diminish the artist’s opportunity to earn an income from his/her work. When you use a copyrighted work with permission and without paying a royalty, you’ve diminished the artist’s income potential. This is the same reason why you can’t buy one copy of a textbook then make 100 photocopies of it and say “well I’m not making money from it.” Houston ISD was hit with a $9.2 million fine after trying to use that very logic to justify photocopying copyrighted works (they eventually settled for a $7.8 million judgement). 
Incident #2: It Says Free
The second copyright incident this week is the one that really got under my skin. There’s a website that was copying and pasting my blog posts and ever so slightly changing a word or to make it appear as though it was their original work. When I caught them and called them out on Twitter the first defense, in a now deleted Tweet, was “I paid someone on Fiver to set it up, it wasn’t supposed to be like that.” To which I replied, “It was done wrong so fix it!” The second Tweet I got from the offender was this one that shows a complete lack of understanding of how copyright and the Internet works. 

For those who can’t see the embedded Tweet, this is the text of it: “Well no problem but you need to stop saying I stole it because it was free to use from your website free tech teaching so that’s not stealing or using and I will get them remove it no problem”

Just because you can read something for free on the Internet even if it is on blog called Free Technology for Teachers (a title that has been a blessing and curse over the years) doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with it. 
Resources to help your colleagues understand copyright.
I’ve shared all of these at various times in the past. They’re still good so take a look. 
Copyright for Teachers was a free webinar that Dr. Beth Holland and I hosted a few years ago. We addressed a slew of copyright questions and scenarios during presentation. You can watch the recording here
As mentioned above, Stanford University Library’s Measuring Fair Use is a great resource for teachers, librarians, and students who have questions about what is and isn’t a fair use of a copyrighted work. 
In Three Lessons to Learn From the $9.2m Copyright Ruling Against Houston ISD I summarized what went wrong and how to avoid making the same mistakes. 
If you have a Common Craft subscription (disclosure, I have an in-kind relationship with them), you have access to a few excellent video explanations of copyright, creative commons, and fair use. 
A few years ago the Crash Course YouTube channel did an entire course about intellectual property. The third segment in the course was about fair use. You can watch that segment here
Finally, if you’d like to read a book about getting permission to use copyrighted works, Richard Stim, a major contributor to the Stanford site mentioned above, has a book called Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off

Thank You Readers for 14 Amazing Years!