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October 2001
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Copyright and Digital Content
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows.]

Everything on the Net is public domain. Right? Read the 10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained by Brad Templeton and you will soon have a different perspective. Copyright is the law of the United States that protects the works of authors, artists, composers, and others from being used without permission. In the digital age where massive amounts of information are distributed, it is essential that students know and understand copyright.

Teaching about copyright is not an easy task, because it is based on law. The language can be confusing, and different people can interpret the law differently. Two high-profile court cases are good examples of the opposing viewpoints taken by the individuals involved. In New York Times Co., Inc., et al. v. Tasini et al., six freelance authors claim their copyrights were infringed. They contributed articles to three periodicals. Their articles, along with others from the periodicals, were placed in three databases by LexisNexis and UMI, electronic publishers. The freelance writers believed that their copyrights had been infringed by the inclusion of their articles in the databases. However, the print publishers (New York Times, Newsday, and Time) and copyright holders of the collective works believed they were simply distributing and reproducing the author's copyrighted material as granted to them under the copyright law. Both sides relied on Chapter 17 of the United States Code dealing with Ownership of Copyright (17 U.S.C. § 201(c)).

(c) Contributions to Collective Works.—Copyright in each separate contribution to a collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole, and vests initially in the author of the contribution. In the absence of an express transfer of the copyright or of any rights under it, the owner of copyright in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of reproducing and distributing the contribution as part of that particular collective work, any revision of that collective work, and any later collective work in the same series.

On June 25, 2001, the Supreme Court agreed with the Second Circuit Court that §201(c) does not give publishers the right to copy the articles because they are no longer in context with the original collective work. Therefore, the print publishers and electronic publishers infringed the copyrights of the freelance authors. Only time will tell what impact this ruling will have on the electronic libraries and databases that have been information reference sources in libraries for over a decade.

A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster was a battle over the rights to music files. Napster provided a service in which members could share music files, called peer-to-peer file sharing. Record companies believed Napster was infringing on copyrights by allowing wide distribution of the files, thereby depriving them of revenue. Napster called it fair use. The Ninth Circuit Court rejected the fair use premise and ruled that Napster knew its users were violating copyright laws. Napster was allowed to remain in service, but was ordered to block transfers of copyrighted music. Napster was working on song-filtering software to police copyright, but the number of songs available for trade had dropped dramatically. Napster's eulogy may already have been written.

Read about copyright by visiting the sites below. Consider the similarities and differences with fair use, public domain, and copyright. What are the key components that students need to know about copyright and information on the Web? Next, examine the lesson by Laura Kaemming presented in the sidebar. Then, think about how you would introduce copyright in your classroom.

10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained
Test your knowledge about copyright. The questions in this article are great for generating lively discussions in the classroom. You will be surprised with some of the answers.

Copyright and K-12: Who Pays in the Network Era?
Another thought-provoking article is David Rothman's "Copyright and K-12: Who Pays in the Network Era?" His premise is that with current law, children must pay the ultimate price because inadequate budgets will not allow schools to pay licensing fees. Several issues are presented: what networks mean to teachers and students, how copyright may affect K-12 networking, attitudes of educators, and options for a solution.

Copyright Clearance Center
The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is a not-for-profit organization created to help organizations comply with U.S. copyright law. With over 1.75 million titles, the CCC provides authorized users with a lawful means to make photocopies.

Copyright Management Center
Fair use allows you to use a limited amount of copyrighted material for your educational use. Think about the material you want to use in your report. Does it pass these tests? Why do you want to use the material? In what way do you want to use the material? How much of the material do you want to use? Will your use deprive the author of making money? To help students answer these questions about what information they may or may not be able to use in their projects, have them use the Fair Use Checklist. It was designed around Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976. There are also many links to articles about fair use.

Copyright Website
Want some great examples of copyright cases to use with students? Then, check out the Copyright Website. Are purple dinosaur costumes an infringement on Barney? Who owns the rights to James Bond? Have musicians ever crossed the line with their creative talents and used someone else's music? In addition, there is information on how to create your own copyright notice and registering your works with the copyright office.

Cut and Paste Plagiarism
For information about preventing, detecting, and tracking down plagiarism on the Web, visit Cut and Paste Plagiarism. The author defines plagiarism and provides a straightforward way of introducing the topic in your classroom.

Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Media
A more recent document, "Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia," adopted by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property in September 1996, can be found at the Consortium for College and University Media Centers, Indiana University.

U.S. Copyright Office
For basic copyright information, current legislation, and international agreements, go to the United States Copyright Office. For guidelines on what you may copy as a teacher, read "Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians" at the Library of Congress.

Who's Going to Know?
If you violate copyright, you will know. If you worked really hard to create something would you want someone else to take credit? The best policy is to ask permission and give attribution.

Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (https://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) and check your knowledge about copyright. See if you can answer the questions before looking at the answers. Just click on the Ask CyberBee button. You will need the Flash plug-in for this activity.

Copyright and Fair Use Web Sites

10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained

Copyright and K-12: Who Pays in the Network Era?

Copyright Clearance Center

Copyright Management Center

Copyright Website

Cut and Paste Plagiarism

Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Media

U.S. Copyright Office

Court Opinions

A&M Records v. Napster Summary

Ninth Circuit Home Page

Supreme Court Collection—New York Times Co., Inc., et al. v. Tasini et al.

Supreme Court of the United States

Teaching About Copyright

Laura Kaemming, a teacher from Toledo, Ohio, created a wonderful lesson about copyright. One of the activities she created for her students allows them to actively think about copyright issues by listening to music and reviewing interesting court cases. For a copy of the entire lesson, including the copyright worksheet, visit the CyberBee Web site.

Grade Level: Eighth Grade

Objectives: 1. Students will be introduced to and develop a basic understanding of copyright laws. 2. Students will identify examples of copyright infringement.

Materials: Music Alive magazine (December 2000 issue); musical excerpts from: "Ice, Ice Baby," as performed by Vanilla Ice, "Under Pressure," as performed by Queen; "My Sweet Lord," as performed by George Harrison, "He's So Fine" as performed by The Chiffons, "I Want a New Drug," as performed by Huey Lewis and the News, "Ghostbusters," as performed by Ray Parker, Jr.; Checklist for Fair Use from http://www.iupui.edu/%7Ecopyinfo/fuchecklist.html, overheads; "Copyright" and "You Be the Judge" worksheets; written test.


Day One

  • Students should answer pre-reading questions on "Copyright" worksheet, then discuss answers with classmates.

  • Students will read aloud the article entitled"Music as Intellectual Property—What's at Stake?" from the December 2000 issue of Music Alive magazine.

  • (Students should answer remaining questions on "Copyright" worksheet.)
Day Two
  • Students should share and discuss answers from "Copyright" worksheet.

  • Discuss copyright rules/regulations and fair use with students.

  • (Students should take notes based on presentation and overhead transparencies.)
Day Three
  • Review copyright rules and regulations.

  • As a group, listen to/compare/discuss excerpts from the songs "Ice, Ice Baby" and "Under Pressure."

  • Read/answer "You Be the Judge" worksheet while listening to musical excerpts. (Replay examples as needed.)
Day Four
  • Review fair use policy.

  • Discuss answers for "You Be the Judge" worksheet.

  • Oral Discussion: "Do you know of any other copyright cases in the field of music? What about in the movie industry? Elsewhere?"
Evaluation: Students will achieve both objectives through discussions and written assessments. Students must correctly answer at least 70 percent of items on graded worksheets and tests to receive a passing grade.
Worksheet 1: You be the Judge!

Name ____________________ Class _______ Date _____________

[Editor's note: The Copyright Web site is a good resource for this activity.]


In 1976, ex-Beatle George Harrison was found guilty of copyright infringement for his hit single, "My Sweet Lord." Bright Tunes Music Corporation had obtained the copyright for the 1963 hit, "He's So Fine," which was written by Ronald Mack and originally performed by The Chiffons. Did George Harrison borrow his musical ideas from Mack's hit song? Judge for yourself. Look at the motifs on the overhead and listen to parts of the two songs.


5=Exactly the same 4=Very similar 3=Somewhat alike 2=Barely the same 1=Not alike in any way

Melody: __________

Harmony/Chordal Structure: __________

Rhythm: __________

Tempo: __________

Lyrics: __________

Instruments: __________

1. How else are the two songs similar?_________________________


2. How are the two songs different? __________________________



In 1981, Huey Lewis (Hugh Cregg) accused Ray Parker, Jr. of copyright infringement after Parker released his single "Ghostbusters." After more than 10 years of arguing, the two artists settled their case in private. Parker never publicly admitted his guilt, but he did agree to pay an undisclosed amount to Lewis for "damages." The issue was brought up again during the spring of 2001. Lewis had taped a VH-1 Behind the Music segment and disclosed details of the 1995 settlement. Parker filed a lawsuit against Lewis in March 2001. Parker claims Lewis broke the "confidentiality agreement." Apparently part of the original settlement banned them both from revealing any information that was not in a press release they jointly issued at that time. Parker is asking for an unspecified amount of money to compensate him for "punitive" damages and to cover his lawyer's fees. No matter the outcome ... "who ya gonna call?" You be the judge!


5=Exactly the same 4=Very Similar 3=Somewhat alike 2=Barely the same 1=Not alike in any way

Melody: __________

Harmony/Chordal Structure: __________

Rhythm: __________

Tempo: __________

Lyrics: __________

Instruments: __________

3. How else are the two songs similar?____________________


4. How are the two songs different?



5. Based on what you have learned, how have Ray Parker, Jr. and Vanilla Ice broken the copyright laws? Be specific.




Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator’s Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.

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