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Using Copyrighted, Creative Commons, and Public Domain Materials

Using Copyrighted, Creative Commons, and Public Domain Materials Activity: Is It Legal? Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons

Instructions for Your Students

The world is your oyster. Except that oysters don't come with instructions. Whether you know it or not (and we bet you do), you're online creating, publishing, and using other people's creative juices to make your own smoothies. If you've ever come across a really cool pic that you wanted to use for a collage or a school report, and didn't know whether using it was legal or not, you are not alone. Today we'll be learning about when and how you can use, share, and modify other people's creative works.

Step 1: Group time. Your teacher is going to divide the class into three groups with three different purposes. The first group will be examining copyrighted materials, the second Creative Commons, and the third public domain. Whichever group you're assigned to, you'll need to become an expert in that area, because you'll be teaching the rest of the class about it shortly. 

Once you're in your group, go ahead and visit the appropriate links and explanatory materials relevant to your topic (below). 

Group 1 - Copyright: You can't change or distribute these, not without permission, or outside of "fair use" (basically as in, for education and not for sale). Copyright usually lasts for 70 years after the death of the author or artist of the material.

Group 2 - Creative Commons: You can use Creative Commons materials as long as you give credit where it's due (a.k.a., cite the genius mastermind who created it). Sometimes you can change these goodies, and sometimes even use them to gain a tidy profit (like if you put a Creative Commons painting on a T-shirt that you sell).

Group 3 - Public Domain: Yippppeeeee! Free for all. In other words, these materials are usually super old or belong to the Man (as in, the government). That means you can use them without getting anybody's permission, change them as much as you want, and even sell them to make money.

Step 2: Okay. So now you're an expert on one of these three areas, right? Good. Time to take apart and re-form Voltron. Count off to form new groups. Each new group must have at least one member from each of the original three groups.

Once in these new jigsawed groups, everyone should take turns explaining to each other in their own words the basics of copyright, Creative Commons, and public domain materials. Be sure to show each other the examples!

Step 3: On your own again, now (provided there are enough computers or tablets), go to the University of Maine at Farmington copyright website and read through the content. 

Step 4: Another step, another formation. This time we want you to pair up and test your knowledge of copyright info by doing the Q & A for Copyright game. You and your partner can answer the questions together or take turns quizzing each other. Your call. 

Step 5: And we're back to the big group. Review what you've learned by discussing the questions below with your class:

  1. What is copyright? What does it protect?
  2. What is a "fair use" provision? Try to explain this in your own words.
  3. What questions in the "Is it copyright infringement?" game tripped you up?
  4. Did you learn anything that surprised you? Were you surprised about what materials are copyrighted and what sorts of things cannot be copyrighted?
  5. Do you think you've ever accidentally committed copyright infringement? What would you do differently now that you've learned about copyright?

Step 6: At this point, you're probably sick to death of learning about how you can't use, share, or modify materials. So let's focus instead on how you can do all of these things using Creative Commons materials.

Watch "Creative Commons Kiwi," a cool video overview of Creative Commons and what the six CC licenses mean.