Copyright Essentials for Schools

Five tips to keep your district safe

I broke the law on my way to work this morning. My speedometer may have been slightly over 55 miles per hour driving east along Interstate 394. I didn’t get caught, but I did put myself at risk of getting a ticket.

Copyright law is a lot like the speed limit. Many people break the rules every day. However, that doesn’t help you if you are the one getting caught. It’s tough to plead the case of “everyone else is doing it” when you get busted.

I recently co-hosted a webinar sponsored by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) about copyright. This is a complex issue school public relations professionals deal with on a daily basis. While there are some gray areas of the law, there are also some bright lines to be aware of.

Simply put, copyright is a question of ownership and permission. Who owns it? Have they given me permission to use it? If so, how?

Here are five myths about copyright and its intersection with school pr professionals.

1. Fair use is easy to understand

I often hear people say they are able to use clips of music, videos or text because it is covered by fair use. Fair use is a complex topic. Legal scholars and experts have a hard time deciding if something is fair use. There are no hard and fast rules like using 30 seconds of a song in a video. Fair use is fairly narrow in scope. There are four factors that are rarely all satisfied. You can view those factors on slide 15 in the slide deck.

2. We are a school – I don’t need to worry about copyright
Working for a school doesn’t protect you from copyright claims. You also generally can’t use the classroom exemption, unless you are delivering instruction. Working for a not-for-profit organization does not give you a pass on the law. If you are somehow depriving the copyright holder of income, no matter how noble your cause is, you need to get their permission or obtain the right license.

3. Everyone does it, we won’t get caught
Just like my speeding example, this is a law people break every day and people also get caught every day. Don’t make assumptions. Just because a neighboring district is posting a lib-dub video or kindergarten read-alouds doesn’t mean they are violating copyright. They may have received permission to use that content. This is something we cannot know just by looking at what they are posting on Facebook. I’m not a lawyer, but my advice is to obtain permission for content your school or district is using that is not yours. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

4. Portions of music concerts and plays are OK to share online
Teachers in your music and theater departments are familiar with different types of licenses that are needed for performances. They should be purchasing songs and scripts that fit their needs for how they plan to perform the song or production. What they may not be familiar with is broadcast licenses. This is a separate license from the performance license that allows you to share the content of a performance. The National Association for Music Educators has some great resources on their website regarding copyright and how it is applied to performances.

5. No one is really paying attention
Believe it or not, people are watching what we do as school pr professionals. We are setting the perceived standards for others through our work. Teachers and students are watching what we are doing and modeling their behavior based on our actions. It’s important to include other people in discussions as we wrestle with copyright and work to obtain the proper permissions to use content.

We need to help educate others on this topic and this can be done by asking the right questions along the way.

  • Can we post a link to the article instead of posting the entire article on our website?
  • Can you send me a link to the keynote speaker’s photo? I want to make sure we have permission to use it.
  • Does our license agreement allow us to post that choir video online?
  • Do we have permission to use that song in this lib-dub video?

Copyright is a complex topic, but it is one we need to be familiar with as school pr professionals. Other people are looking to us to be the expert on this topic. There are some great resources available in the slide deck from the presentation.

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