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4 Great Lesson Plans on Copyright

Kick off a conversation about plagiarism, fair use, and creators' rights in your classroom.

Bronwyn Harris | March 22, 2018

Many kids -- and even adults -- don't fully understand the power of copyright law. As we all know, the internet makes it extremely easy to use other people's work without permission. But access to all this content also gives us incredible opportunities for creation and critical thinking. Helping your students understand the nuances of copyright law, the doctrine of fair use, public domain, and Creative Commons licenses can support their development as critical, creative digital citizens.

Young kids understand respect and fairness, and copyright at its most basic level can be explained in these terms. With older students, in addition to focusing on what qualifies as plagiarism, you can introduce the complexities of copyright, including the doctrine of fair use, which gives students the right to remix and critique media. Kids of any age can feel incredibly validated to learn that the law protects their ideas and creations. To kick off the conversation in your classroom, we've gathered a few great lesson plans to get you started.


My Creative Work (K–Grade 2)

How can you give credit to your own creative work?

Students learn the basics -- title, name, and date -- for crediting creative work. They discuss the importance of citing work and learn why they should give themselves proper credit on their own work. 


Whose Is It, Anyway? (Grades 3–5)

How can you show respect for other people's work?

Students learn that although the internet makes it very easy, copying the work of others and presenting it as one's own is plagiarism. They also learn about circumstances in which it's permissible to use the work of others. Students are introduced to proper ways to cite people's words and ideas from the internet, including how to write a citation.


Rework, Reuse, Remix (Grades 6–8)

What rights do you have as a creator?

Students explore the concept of fair use, apply it to case studies, and create an original work of fair use. Students learn how to judge whether something is protected by fair use, then apply what they learn to two case studies, a remixed video, and a mash-up song, to judge whether or not they fall under fair use. Students then create an original work of fair use by reworking copyrighted material into a collage or video.


Rights, Remixes, and Respect (Grades 9–12)

What should you consider when you use other people's creative work?

Students reflect on the differences between taking inspiration from the creative work of others and appropriating that work without permission. Students review their knowledge of copyright and fair use and examine a case study involving the appropriation of music by a popular band. Students then form groups in which they role-play different stakeholders in the music industry and then debate the ethical and legal issues involved in using other people's creative work in practices such as remixing and sampling.

Teaching kids about copyright at a young age empowers them both to create their own content and use the content that others have created. This sets them up for success as digital citizens now and in the future.

Main photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

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