Copyright, Intellectual Freedom and Intellectual Property: The View from Here

As Rebecca Butler states in “Borrowing Media from Around the World: School Libraries and Copyright Law “Copyright law in the school library environment is a gray, cloudy entity with many interpretations.”  What I’ve attempted to do is clear up some of the gray, cloudy areas for myself, staff and students in my little corner of the world.  Here’s a description of my new, clearer view on this topic from the beautiful school library in our 110 year heritage designated school building.


As Doug Johnson explains in Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad © As information professionals, we have a responsibility to make sure our staff and students have access to all of the copyrighted materials they’re entitled to—and we also need to help them develop a healthy respect for copyright laws.”

My husband recently reminded me of  this Aboriginal perspective of knowledge/intellectual property  and how Aboriginal Elders always preface everything they share with acknowledging those that came before them. An Aboriginal perspective acknowledges that all knowledge is a culmination of a collective process, so how can anyone claim ownership over that which belongs to everyone? Yet, there are some cultural traditions associated with this oral culture  that must be respected when sharing traditional songs and teachings.

When viewing this issue from a social constructivist perspective it’s easy to see that everything we learn hinges upon what we already know. This in itself is a humbling recognition, and serves to inspire those adhering to a constructivism to consciously recognize and acknowledge that all knowledge is a cumulative, highly social entity. All great minds stand on the shoulders of other great minds. Our current ways and means of acknowledging sources does not always capture this. For example, I need to thank Joanie and Sheila here for guiding a discussion related to this topic, and for all the insights offered by my online learning buddies, and to Joanne for providing a great reading list.

Perhaps the most exciting trend today is Creative Commons licensing based on the recognition that many content creators believe good ideas and work are for sharing, so  a formal means has been provided by which to do so. It is worth emphasizing that when using Creative Commons licensed materials, one must attribute the creator.

I must thank Anne-Marie Gordon turrean / from my Twitter Network for sharing this  acknowledgement/sources/attribution sample. It’s from this VoiceThread school project.


In Canada, we’re awaiting the passing of Bill C-61 on copyright and can look forward to Dr. John Tooth’s highly anticipated Canadian copyright book “in layman’s terms”.

What can I do as a Teacher-librarian in the meantime? – LOTS!

There is plenty I  can do to help staff and students and  find their own personal comfort levels in times of uncertainty when accessing others’ intellectual property. I must first acknowledge Annette Lamb for her description of 8 roles for a T-L to take action in the article: Intellectual Freedom for Youth which helped me form the following list for my own personal action plan:

  • Consult, and if possible involve, Aboriginal Elders and community when sharing traditional songs, art, teachings and knowledge.
  • Promote Intellectual Freedom with students – use readings  the from ALA’s Kids, Know Your Rights! – Add Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury to the list for Senior high and adult students.
  • Teach the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship as outlined in Mike Ribble’s Passport to Digital Citizenship:
  • Examine Web 2.0 Terms of Service agreements to provide clarification for staff and  students.
  1. For example, examine  Google Docs Terms of Service  to see how ownership is retained by Google Docs, then pass this information on to staff and students.
  2. Examine VoiceThread’s terms of use to learn that all uploaded content remains the property of the owner/creator.
  3. Ask students to examine terms of use and find out how they feel about Facebook’s new terms of use which retain ownership of the content posted there.
  • Encourage blogging as student assignments because academic honesty is “built in”.  Just knowing they’re writing for a  global audience compells students to be  accountable. Others (including classmates) may read their work and challenge ownership/authenticity. Blogging also allows students to link to their electronic sources of information easily and it’s easy for teachers to verify the sources of information.
  • When a teacher asks me to come and do a talk on plagiarism, I  turn it around and talk about academic honesty, and much more practically, demonstrate how to use Word 2007 to cite sources easily in any essay style!
  • Demonstrate, discuss and educate others on the educational uses of least restrictive internet filtering policies.
  • Make a list of royalty free for educational use music and image websites off the library website like this one.
  • If a student insists on using an image or music which isn’t cleared for educational use, simply ask them to e-mail the creator. (Most often they choose to use an image or music that is already cleared for educational use instead.)
  • Make a list of age appropriate/locally relevant sites on copyright for students and staff like this one.
  • Help students and teachers frame their inquiry questions so that it requires original thinking and avoids copy and pasting (e.g. “What is a polar bear’s habitat?” is a question which could easily result in copy and pasting vs. “Can polar bears survive in a Mexican zoos?” which requires a great deal of both research and original thinking.)
  • Encourage students (and teachers) to use original artwork and photographs, and assign creative commons licensing to it. A good way to start teaching this is by uploading original photographs or images to Flickr, then requiring students to assign the licensing that they’re comfortable with.
  • Suggest that teachers include ethical and responsible use of others’ intellectual property as part of their assessment criteria.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging my husband’s contribution  on Aboriginal perspectives and social constructionist perspectives on intellectual property, so I’m sending him this digital valentine. As we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversay on Valentine’s Day we talked about anything and everything, including intellectual freedom and intellectual property. Thank you Vern.


2 Responses to Copyright, Intellectual Freedom and Intellectual Property: The View from Here

  1. Rhondda says:

    Good post Rhonda

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