Copyright and Creative Commons

Copyright and Creative Commons

Protection of intellectual property is taken very seriously in the United States. Copyright holders defend their rights quite vigorously and as a teacher, you should think carefully about how you and your students use the works of others in terms of music, video, spoken, and written words.

What exactly does Copyright mean?

Copyright protects the rights of any creator of content. It gives them the legal power to do with their works as they choose. Once you create an original work, you then have exclusive rights to sell, make copies, make other works based upon it, or place it on public display.

The types of original content protected by copyright laws includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain intellectual works. In addition, it can also be the assignments you create for a class you teach or the notes your students take in class.

That all sounds a bit daunting, however, there are some limitations to these rights. The limitation that has the most impact for educators is ‘Fair Use’. (Fair Use is discussed below). Copyright law, as it currently stands, is covered in Title 17 of the United States Code.

For a lighthearted introduction to these concepts, check out A Fair(y) Use Tale video created by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University. This humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles uses sayings from our favorite Disney characters.

Fair Use is also full of legal loopholes and stipulations. So again, instead of trying to describe what is there, take a look at the Stanford University What Is Fair Use Web page.

Visit the “Copyright Laws” Quest 1 on the 21things4students site which targets middle school students and where you can view videos, the Copyright Kids and Cyberbee sites, and take a copyright Quiz.

Creative Commons

A fantastic alternative to restrictions of copyright is called a Creative Commons (Links to an external site) license. This license allows a content creator to give explicit permission to those wishing to use their intellectual property or original works in a way that respect the owners wishes and thus eliminates the need to contact the content creator.

  • Watch a video  that gives a great description of the different types of Creative Commons (CC) licenses.

Learn to use Creative Commons (Links to an external site), an alternative way to license your own work and select the rules about how your work can be used by others.


Use Creative  to create a license for the original work you create in our class. If you are new to Creative Commons, click on “Licenses” and choose “About the Licenses” to learn more. When you are ready to create a license select “Choose a License” from the drop down menu. Click on the buttons to set the attributes for your license. Type in a name for your project and put your name (first name only or a secret code name) in the appropriate boxes. Click “Select License” at the bottom of the page when you are all set.