Copyright FAQs: An Educator’s Guide

Copyright law is an often misunderstood topic, especially where the field of education is concerned. So, what exactly is copyright?  Peggy Johnson writes that, “The intended purpose of copyright is to balance the rights of the public for access to information and creative expression with the rights of its creator and to provide incentives for the advancement of knowledge and creativity” (218).

Are educators exempt from copyright law?  No, not necessarily, but there are guidelines that educators should consider to determine if they are practicing fair use.  Section 107 of the Copyright Law of the United States addresses these limitations on exclusive rights:

107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Let’s dissect that a little, shall we?  Many educators’ concerns about copyright will be covered by number (1).  As long as a work is being used for educational purposes, then it is most likely considered fair use.

Number (2), the nature of the copyrighted work, looks at the work as a whole.  Is the work published or unpublished?  If the work is not published, then copying and distributing the work could negatively affect the creator’s ability to sell the work in the future.  Also, works of fiction are favored over non-fiction in the eyes of copyright protection because of the creative process involved in producing the work.  Non-fiction works are based on facts, and facts alone are not copyright protected (Russell, 36).

Number (3) concerns the amount of the work that is being used.  In general, using smaller portions of the work is favored over using larger portions.  However, there is no set percentage of a work that is allowable under copyright law.  Educators are asked to use their best judgement and to utilize only the most relevant portions of a given work (Russell, 36) .

Number (4) addresses the commercial potential of a work.  If there is a current market for the work, then one must consider how the use of that work will affect the market value.  If a book is out of print, then educators needn’t worry as much about affecting the copyright holder’s sales (Russell, 36).

Now that we have a better understanding of fair use, let’s address a few frequently asked questions that educators may have concerning copyright law.

Copyright FAQs

A new student joined my math class in the middle of the school year, but I do not have any extra workbooks available to give him. Can I make copies of another student’s math workbook?

Unless otherwise noted on the workbook, consumables should not be copied. If the workbook is still in print, then purchasing a new one is recommended.  Under fair use (4) making copies of a work that is still in publication negatively affects the copyright holder’s ability to receive compensation.

If the workbook is out of print and every effort has been made to locate an additional copy, then copying only the necessary portions of the workbook would be considered fair use (Russell, 57).

I would like to show The Indian in the Cupboard movie in my classroom at the end of a language arts unit featuring the same book. Is this allowed?

Yes, Section 110 of the Copyright Law allows for public viewing of performances for educational purposes, as long as the video has been legally purchased. However, rental agreements from online rental or streaming agencies may prohibit public viewing. Be sure to check you user agreement before broadcast. Videos purchased by the teacher, school, or public library are allowable (Russell, 67).

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:
(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

My school wants show the Disney movie Moana as part of a movie night fundraiser. How do we avoid copyright violations?

If the movie is not being shown for educational purposes then it does not constitute fair use (number 1). If attendees of the performance are charged admission (section 110, 5 (A) (i)) then this could negatively impact the product that is currently on the market. Movie night organizers should determine if the school district has a public performance license (Russell, 66) .  If not, then they will need to purchase one for the event.

Following an art study on photography, my 5th grade students have the option of doing Power Point presentations or a YouTube video compiling their favorite photographs that they’ve recently taken. Many have expressed interest in adding music to their presentation. How does copyright come into play?

This would fall under fair use (1) since it is being used in the classroom for educational purposes (Russell, 93). However, students should be encouraged to use open source music. Use the search tools on Creative Commons to locate these resources. Be sure to have students cite their sources.

My 4th grade students are doing biography reports about famous Hoosiers. Students can download pictures from the internet for their reports because they are free, right?

Actually, you should assume, unless otherwise noted, that all images on the internet are copyright protected (Russell, 80) . While this would fall under fair use (1), students should be advised to search Creative Commons for open source images. Students should also be encouraged to search the state library’s digital collection. Again, all sources should be cited.

My class subscribes to a Scholastic News magazine. We have added a few new students to our class and no longer have enough issues for each student. Can I make copies of the originals (Russell, 57)?

Fair use should be examined here. Yes, it falls under fair use (1) for educational purposes and the amount of copies would be small (fair use (3)). However, because this is a subscription magazine, making copies negatively affects Scholastic’s ability to generate revenue. I would recommend that you contact customer service to adjust the number of issues your class receives.

My school puts on an annual talent show, but there is always concern about students singing, dancing to, or performing to popular music. Is this something that we should be concerned about?

If the talent show is free of charge or any fees are used for educational purposes, then it is considered exempt under section 110 (4) (A) (B):

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

4) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work otherwise than in a transmission to the public, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and without payment of any fee or other compensation for the performance to any of its performers, promoters, or organizers, if—
(A) there is no direct or indirect admission charge; or
(B) the proceeds, after deducting the reasonable costs of producing the performance, are used exclusively for educational, religious, or charitable purposes and not for private financial gain

My 2nd grade students are doing a research project on an animal of their choice. May they print articles and make photocopies in the library to assist them in their research (Russell, 57)?

This would be considered allowable under fair use (1) since it is for educational purposes.


Sources Cited:

Collections Hosted by the Indiana State Library, Accessed 11 Apr. 2017.

“Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17), Chapter 1 – Circular 92.” U.S. Copyright Office, Accessed 11 Apr. 2017.

Johnson, Peggy. “Managing Collections.” Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management. 3rd, Rev. Ed, 3rd ed., American Library Association, 2013, p. 218.

Open Icon Library, and User: ZyMOS. “Copyright license icon.” Digital image. Wikimedia Commons,×31.svg.

Russell, Carrie. Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators. American Library Association, 2012.


If you build it: a documentary review

I discovered the documentary If You Build It while researching makerspaces for an annotated bibliography project.  The film caught my attention because it is about reinventing a high school “shop class,” turning it into an endeavor that can benefit an entire community.

If you build it movie

Designers, architects, and activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller make their way to Windsor, a poor rural community in North Carolina.  Pilloton and Miller approach the local school board, asking if they can reinvent a high school shop class in an attempt to change the economic outlook for Windsor.  The school board reluctantly agrees and Pilloton and Miller, living on grant money and credit, create a program that ultimately benefits both the students and the community.

Design. Build. Transform.

Pilloton and Miller take a ragtag group of high school juniors and, over the course of a school year, turn them into designers and builders.  They begin with what may seem like simple projects, yet some of the students have never held a tool in their hands.  The projects gradually get more complex as the students are asked to design a state-of-the art chicken coop and eventually a building that will house Windsor’s summer farmers’ market.  With Pilloton and Miller’s encouragement and unique approach to teaching, the students rise to the occasion.  Challenges mount, yet the students persevere.  In the end, they create something that each of them and the Windsor community can be proud of.

This film struck a chord with me.  Under financial duress, schools are abandoning their technical and vocational programs to detriment of both students and communities.  Students, like those featured in the documentary, that aren’t bound for college are leaving high school with few skills and even fewer job prospects.  They simply aren’t equipped to compete in the 21st century workforce.  Programs like Pilloton’s and Miller’s teach students the skills they need to compete in the workforce.  Vocational programs can incite change in communities, just as it did in Windsor, North Carolina.

If you have any interest in saving or reinstating vocational and technical programs in your community, I encourage you to watch If You Build It.   It is available for streaming on Netflix.  Share this program with educators, administrators, and even state law makers.


Minecraft–A Multiuser virtual environment

Today I am giving an overview of Minecraft Pocket Edition (MCPE).  This is an electronic game that my daughter Grace has been playing for a few years now on her iPod and iPad.  In this game, users build and create virtual environments out of 3-dimensional building blocks, or cubes.  Users have the ability to design their own players, allowing their individuality to shine through in their characters.  In MCPE, there are 2 player modes–creative and survival.

Creative mode

In the creative mode, users have access to all the blocks they desire and can build whatever they wish.  There are two types of land in creative mode–there is a flat environment with no hills or trees.  This type of land is great for building large structures, such as castles.  Below you will see that Grace has created an entire town in this mode.  Her town is complete with a church, movie theater, roller dome, library, bakery, bank, and dance studio.

Grace's MCPE town

 The other type of land in creative mode is similar to a natural environment, with grass, trees, hills, and even different types of weather.  Users can choose which environment they want to build their world in.  Below is an example of a village in a MCPE natural environment.

MCPE village in a natural environment

Survival mode

In survival mode, users automatically spawn into a natural environment where they have to find food, build shelter, and scavenge materials to survive.  Over time, users collect tools like the ones below that help them survive.  Pick axes can be used to mine blocks so that users can build new structures.

MCPE survival tools

A fun feature of MCPE is that if another device is near, players have the ability to interact with one another, turning it into a social game.  Users can play in each other’s worlds as long as their devices are in close proximity.

There are other apps that interact with Minecraft, such as Minecraft Maps.  This app allows users to visit environments created by other players across the globe. There is also an option to add other environments or to play in other user’s worlds by logging in to different servers.

Of Minecraft Pocket Edition, Grace says, “I really like that you can change your worlds and customize them to be whatever you want.”  Unlike a typical video game where the backgrounds and worlds are programmed into the game, users get to create their own playing environments in MCPE.  There are an infinite amount of ways that you can play and create in Minecraft Pocket Edition.

Libraries can offer programming to children and teens that feature multi-user virtual environment games like Minecraft.  Minecraft clubs can meet on a regular basis at the library, allowing players to interact with each other in their building block worlds.  Library staff can create their own libraries within the game.  They could also build environments made famous in popular literature. Picture the haunting moors in Wuthering Heights or the stark and barren landscape of Mars as found in The Martian.  Again, the possibilities seem endless.  If they aren’t already, young adult librarians should be tapping into the Minecraft sensation in order to reach this often overlooked population of teens.

Gracie’s Song book review

Last week I was contacted by author Michelle Schlicher, asking if I would like to review her latest book Gracie’s Song.  Michelle’s timing was perfect because I was just finishing up another book and looking for a new one to start.  Michelle described Gracie’s Song as a contemporary romance.  I am being completely honest in saying that I didn’t quite know what to expect from a contemporary romance novel.  Was it going to be hot and steamy like a Harlequin Romance novel?  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  You see, romance novels aren’t typically a genre that I seek out.  If a book that I read happens to have a great love story, then I’m almost sure to enjoy it, but a straight up romance novel isn’t something I would generally choose.     Fortunately for me, Gracie’s Song was, in my opinion, contemporary fiction with an element of romance.

 Gracie's Song

Gracie Brannen left her home in Glenwood under mysterious circumstances shortly after her high school graduation, leaving behind her family and friends and a whole lot of unanswered questions.  Among those she left behind was lifelong friend and boyfriend Finn Miller.  Ten years later, she returns home for her mother’s funeral.  Though Gracie has grown into a strong and independent woman, it seems that not much has changed in her small hometown.

Gracie quickly rekindles her relationships with both her sister and best friend and is welcomed into their families.  Her absence is easily forgiven by everyone except Finn, with whom she just can’t seem to reconcile her past.

Gracie’s Song has elements of intrigue that will leave readers on the edge of their seats as Gracie’s past and her reasons for leaving Glenwood are slowly revealed.  This story will break your heart and leave you wanting to know more about some of Gracie’s closest relationships.  While the author didn’t leave any loose ends, Gracie’s Song would easily lend itself to a sequel.

Gracie’s Song is author Michelle Schlicher’s 2nd novel.  I can’t wait to read her debut novel The Blue Jay.

For more information about Michelle’s books, click on the images below:



Please note:  I received a complementary copy of this book to review.  All opinions expressed within this review are my own.


Revisiting classics

In high school and college, I was required to read a great deal of classic literature.  Much of it I disliked, and if I’m honest, I probably did my best to skim just enough that I could fudge on essays and tests.  A few that come to begrudgingly come to mind are The Old Man and the Sea and The Red Badge of Courage.  But there were also a few that stuck with me as an adult and that I think are worthy of revisiting again…

Classics to Revisit by Worn Out Pages

The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald had seen a resurgence in popularity since the movie was released in 2013.  But as much as I adore Leonardo DiCaprio, I couldn’t bring myself to watch this entire movie.  I found it dull and uninteresting, the complete opposite of how I felt when I first read the book in high school.  I was taken in by the glitz and glamour of the high society parties and the romance between Jay and Daisy.  I read this again as an adult and was entertained, though I think it lost a little of the luster I had for it as a young and naive high schooler.


You know, I couldn’t even tell you when I read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for the first time.  It may have been my senior year in college when I was student teaching, but I suspect I read it way back in high school, too.  This is a book that I’ve read a few times, and even used while teaching.  Regardless, this band of greasers exemplifies the value of brotherhood and friendship during times of adversity and loss.  This would be a great book to pick up again as our children near their teenage years.  The movie wasn’t too bad either.


A Separate Peace by John Knowles is another great story about friendship.  Phineas and Gene are friends away at boarding school during World War II.  A tragic turn of events forces the characters to delve deep into matters of the heart among these friends.  This book has been sitting on my bookcase for several years now, just waiting for me to reread it!

I will admit that I read 1984 by George Orwell as an adult, and not at all in high school or college.  I don’t think it was really on my radar until I began reading dystopian fiction.  If you enjoy that genre, then you must really pick up 1984, for it is one of the original dystopian novels.  Once you read it, you will look back on other modern young adult tales and realize that many of them have been modeled after this book.  Today dystopian fiction novels are a dime a dozen.  While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, you simply must read the originals to appreciate how groundbreaking these books were at the time.

If you are a fan of historical romance novels, then Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a classic that should be on your to read list.  It is a timeless love story that spans generations.  I read Wuthering Heights in college, fully expecting to suffer through it.  Instead, I found myself caught up in Catherine and Heathcliff’s dark and haunting relationship.  Set against the moors of England, this tale of unrequited love and revenge is one that will stay with you long after you stop reading.

If I were to forced to choose just one, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee would probably be considered my absolute favorite book.  I read this book as a freshman in high school and again as an adult.  I could read this book again and again and never tire of it.  I have so much love for this book and respect for Harper Lee as the author that I really didn’t want to even consider reading Go Set a Watchman because of the controversy surrounding the publisher’s acquisition of the book.  I did end up receiving it for it for my birthday but have yet to read it.  When I do, I know to proceed with caution and to read it as a novel completely separate from To Kill a Mockingbird.  I would hate for anything to tarnish the adoration that I have for this book.

What are your favorite classics that are worth rereading?  I have another list of classics on my to read list that I hope to share with you soon!

Wander Indiana

Wander Indiana

After recently reading All the Bright Places,  I was inspired to “Wander Indiana.”  In my review of All the Bright Places, I describe how the main characters Theodore and Violet are given an assignment designed to inspire pride in their Hoosier state.  They are required to visit and report back on unique Indiana attractions.  Along the way, they discover some really obscure but fascinating places.  This made me curious to see what I could discover right in my own backyard.  I love a good adventure, especially if it is close to home!

My daughter Grace and I planned a little mama-daughter date day in nearby Huntington, Indiana. The plan was to see a movie, have lunch, and visit a cute little antique shop. I figured that while we were there, we could also check out a local park. What we discovered was a hidden gem smack dab in the middle of this small town. An abandoned rock quarry had been transformed into a lovely sunken garden. It was so enchanting, like something out of a movie. We, of course, had to have an impromptu photo session. Forgive the senior picture-style posing!

Wander Indiana, Sunken Gardens, Huntington, IN

There are so many wonderful surprises hidden around every corner, if only we choose to find them.  Next, we plan to wander through Berne, Indiana for their Swiss Days festival!  If you are interested in wandering, in either your own state or while traveling, I encourage you to visit There you will find lists of roadside attractions and plotted maps for every state. There is something for everyone to see. From kitsch to fantastic, these lists have it all!  Check out the attractions for your state and come back and leave a comment telling me one that you are excited to see.