BY ELIZABETH HERITAGE

This piece was originally published in the March edition of the New Zealand Education Gazette Tukutuku Kōrero.

How many times today have you broken the law? If you’re a teacher who likes to adapt and share resources, the answer might surprise you.

There is currently a major problem with copyright in education. Under the 1994 Copyright Act, employers (for schools, this means the Board of Trustees) hold the copyright to all teaching resources that teachers create in the course of their employment. This means that when teachers seek to save time and money by sharing these resources (including taking resources they have created from one job to another) but don’t have the Board’s express permission, they are infringing copyright and breaking the law.

That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that help is at hand.

Copyright is not like other forms of intellectual property (like patents and trademarks): you don’t have to apply or register — you don’t even have to use the little © symbol. Copyright occurs automatically upon the creation of a work, and it is entirely up to the owner to permit or deny the right to copy that work as they see fit.

All owners of copyright everywhere — including Boards of Trustees — have the power to give permission for (or ‘license’) others to reuse their copyright works in specific ways. However, most copyright owners are not sure exactly how to do this in a clear and legally robust manner.

This is where Creative Commons comes in: we provide free, legally robust and ‘human-readable’ licences that anyone can use to clarify what they want others to do — and not do — with their works. These licences can make copyright work for schools and for teachers, by enabling the sharing, adaptation and reuse of teaching resources and other works.

For this to happen, schools need to adopt a Creative Commons policy, which effectively changes — and clarifies — the school’s default relationship with copyright. Instead of making it illegal to share, these policies enable and encourage the sharing of resources using Creative Commons licensing.

From a technical standpoint, this sharing is becoming easier every day. The increasing availability of digital technologies and the rise of centralised resource sharing portals — like the Network for Learning portal, Pond — have made the process of sharing simple and quick.

As more New Zealand schools start using Pond, Creative Commons licences can ensure that every teacher is able to share and collaborate with colleagues in other schools around the country confidently and legally. Simply put, digital technologies and Pond make sharing resources easy; Creative Commons licences make sharing resources legal. And the potential time- and money-savings of national-level collaboration are huge.

By adopting a Creative Commons policy at your school, you’ll not only be making your working life easier, you’ll be following a growing trend. Over the past couple of years, over a hundred New Zealand schools have adopted a Creative Commons policy. Such policies provide a clear statement of a school’s position on in-copyright resources produced by teachers employed at the school, and allow teachers to use Creative Commons licensing to share their work for reuse. These policies also ensure that, when teachers leave, both the teacher and the school retain access to all teaching resources.

Schools with Creative Commons policies are well in line with current Government thinking. Boards of Trustees are encouraged to consider using Creative Commons licences for their teaching resources, using the New Zealand Government’s Open Access and Licensing framework, approved by Cabinet in 2010. The recent Future Focused Learning in Connected Communities report, put out by Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye’s 21st Century Learning Reference Group, supported this by encouraging schools to enable teachers to use Creative Commons licensing to share their resources.

One such school is Taupaki School, a co-educational primary school located an hour north-west of Auckland. On 20 February 2013, Taupaki School’s Board of Trustees passed a Creative Commons policy, giving permission to Taupaki’s teachers to share and collaborate, legally.

The idea for the policy was initially introduced by the school’s principal, Stephen Lethbridge, and was then overseen by Board Chair Paula Hogg.

Stephen introduced the idea of the policy after noticing that “teachers were sharing more and more resources online and connecting with a great many schools who were visiting us. It would have been a nightmare to seek permission from the board, more likely the school principal, every time a teacher or student wanted to share information.”

The Creative Commons policy is also strongly aligned with Taupaki School’s existing vision. Paula says, “Our school’s vision strongly encourages collaboration, and we encourage sharing, so it was a bit of a shock to learn that we needed to have a policy for teachers to share legally.  The Creative Commons policy was very aligned with our thinking as a board. There was no dissonance in our discussion. The main issue was that everyone was surprised to discover that this isn’t normal practice.”

According to Paula, the Creative Commons policy passed because it supported the fundamental mission of the school — improving student outcomes. “We knew from the documentation Stephen provided, and from other background reading, that professional development is actually one of the best ways to lift student outcomes. And a big part of professional development is sharing best practice, including resources.”

Works licensed under Creative Commons can also be a great resource for students as well as teachers. Since 2010, DigitalNZ (at the National Library) has been running the Mix & Mash competition, which encourages Kiwi students to tell new stories by adapting and remixing Public Domain and Creative Commons licensed content.

In the May 2013 showcase, the student award was won by Travis, Evan and Jared Manning (aged 11, 9 and 6). Using stop motion animation, poetry, story writing and drawing, their video tells ‘The Story of Rangitoto.’ Judges praised the story as “a dramatic and exciting retelling of the origins of a familiar piece of the Auckland landscape.”

As well as learning about copyright and licensing — essential skills for digital citizenship — Mix & Mash also encourages students to actively and legally engage with their cultural heritage.

If you’re keen to learn more, and to see about getting Creative Commons licensing going at your school, the good news is that we’ve already done a lot of the legwork for you. Schools looking to adopt Creative Commons licensing can visit creativecommons.org.nz/ccinschools for a range of helpful tools, including an off-the-shelf Creative Commons policy that you can adapt for your own purposes.

If you’d like to host a workshop in your region or organisation, please get in touch: elizabeth@creativecommons.org.nz

Elizabeth Heritage is the Communications Lead at Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ.

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