Helping Students Understand Copyright and Fair Use

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 4

4. Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility – Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.

a. Advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources.

Program Standard 1

1. Expectations – The teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

1.2 Element – Communicating with Students

1.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher’s explanation of content is appropriate and connects with students’ knowledge and experience.

Technology and online resources are an integral part of most classrooms today. Students actively participate in online research in the pursuit of new skills and knowledge. Schools are increasingly using educational web 2.0 platforms to create classroom blogs that students can create and add content to so it is important for them to understand how to responsibly use intellectual property that does not belong to them. The International Society for Technology in Education addresses this issue in their fourth standard by stating that educators need to demonstrate to students how to use digital information in a conscientious and legal manner. In order for students to use content ethically they first must understand copyright, fair use, and creative commons and how they all relate. For EDTC 6433 I researched how I could teach these complex issues to young students without confusing them on the subject matter.

Fortunately, many educators have previously dealt with teaching copyright and fair use in the classroom and shared their resources and lesson plans online. Borovoy (2015), in her article “Five-Minute Film Festival: Copyright and Fair Use For Educators,” complied a list of useful websites and created a YouTube playlist with helpful videos on copyright, fair use, and creative commons. The first video in the playlist is particularly helpful because it follows a teacher through her lesson plan on fair use and demonstrates how she engages her students in the subject matter. Borovoy (2015) even provided a link to a pdf of the worksheet that the teacher used in the video. This article provides teachers with a starting point on how to teach the subject of copyright, fair use, and creative commons and even presents links to external websites with helpful information. However, it does not provide a concise guideline for how to deal with issues of copyright, fair use, and creative commons. Burt (2012) did just that in his article “The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons” and also provides many useful tips on where to find content that can be used and how to do so ethically and legally. However, even with all of the information available it can still be difficult to tell what content is safe to use even with proper citation or credit.

Another student in EDTC 6433 shared a resource from the American Library Association that helps individuals navigate copyright issues. On their website there is a page that provides copyright tools like their Public Domain Slider (which helps determine the copyright status of a work published in the United States), their Fair Use Evaluator (which helps determine is the use of copyrighted material is covered under fair use), and their Copyright Genie (which can be used to determine if a work is copyrighted and calculate its terms of protection). The ALA website even provides a tool that allows educators to determine educational exceptions to copyright law (Copyright, 2016). All of the resources described will help me grapple with these complicated but important issues with my students so they will be prepared to use all the content the web has to offer in a safe, legal, and ethical manner.

Borovoy, A. E. (2015) Five-Minute Film Festival: Copyright and Fair Use for Educators. Edutopia. Retrieved from
Burt, R. (2012). The Educator’s Guide To Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons. The Edublogger. Retrieved from
Copyright Tools. (2016) ALA: American Library Association. Retrieved from

3 thoughts on “Helping Students Understand Copyright and Fair Use

  1. Naomi, thank you for sharing this information regarding fair use in the digital world. This is an important topic to consider when citing internet resources during research.


  2. Hi, Naomi – This was an interesting post on a subject very close to my librarian’s heart. Your resources will be helpful as I continue to address this complicated issue with upper-elementary students. Also, I’m glad that you found the ALA tools helpful. – Marjorie


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