The Culture of Copyright

Photo Credit: MikeBlogs Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: MikeBlogs Flickr via Compfight cc


Photo Credit: _chrisUK Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: _chrisUK Flickr via Compfight cc

Back in 2012, Beijing hosted the World Intellectual Property Convention. (ironic, I know!) As blissfully unaware expats, we knew something was up when the Knock-Knock, Pearl Market & Yashow were only selling I Love Beijing t-shirts. Click here to read more about the convention. My expat friends and I were devastated. Where were we going to get our haggling fix for the week?

Teaching copyright can be challenging in countries where international copyright laws are not being followed for a multitude of reasons. I wasn’t exactly modeling best practice for my students when I lived in Beijing, with my weekly trips to Yashow and the Knock-Knock shop. I knew the goods were fake, and even though, deep down, I knew it was wrong, I still loved to go there and negotiate a good deal.

I live in the Netherlands now, and, to my knowledge, this kind of shopping doesn’t exist here. If it did, I can’t see myself shopping there the same way I did when I lived in Beijing, because it is not socially acceptable here. Here, it would be considered deviant, anti-social behavior.

How do we teach copyright in countries where international copyright law is not followed?  I think the best way to answer this question is to follow best practice, whatever that may mean to us. For me, I tend to keep in line with the copyright laws of my home country when teaching is a country that culturally does not adhere to international copyright laws. The same way that many schools follow best practice with regards to child safety when operating in countries where the laws to protect children either differ significantly or do not exist. It is important for school administrators to implement policies that follow best practice and protect the laws that are in place, regardless of the cultural norms.

What is our obligation as educators? As educators, we must model and explicitly teach students about copyright laws and teach them how to give credit where credit is due. The concept behind the remix culture has its pros and cons. But, keep in mind, it isn’t a new thing. How many of us made our remix tapes back in the day, recording off of the radio or CDs. It seemed so innocuous back then. The quality was poor, so it was more challenging to profit off of the work of others. Now, with digital & social media being so readily available to people, it does seem like intellectual property is becoming a thing of the past. Or, at least it will be if we don’t embed teaching about proper (21-century) citations, intellectual property, and copyright laws. What it all boils down to is keeping up-to-date in teaching appropriate digital citizenship.

Photo Credit: Kodamakitty Flickr via Compfight cc

Trying to fight the remix culture is like trying to fight the spread of social media. It’s not possible. We need to embrace it. When my school first adopted Google Drive, students were excited to use it, and I was so impressed with the wide variety of ways students were expressing themselves, their thought and their ideas. We made eBooks for our fractured fairy tales and the kids were so excited to complete the project.When it came to illustration time, I couldn’t believe how many of my students were cutting and pasting images from the Internet and put thing them in their stories, with absolutely no reference to the creator of the image. I immediately did a lesson on Creative Commons and how to search for images that are intended for reuse. They looked at me like I was an alien!

I love the idea of bringing the remix culture into my classroom, but only after I have modeled and taught how to properly cite sources. If we allow students to go off into remix land without the proper understanding of copyright and how to cite sources, then we are enabling students to develop poor digital habits.

Now that we are finishing off our nonfiction unit and have spent time researching and learning how to cite sources, I would like to explore remixing with my students. Some way’s I will get started:

  1. Collaborate with the music teacher, who is teaching the students how to use garage band.
  2. Create a Happy New Year 2017 mashup or remix with my class and share it on our Weekly Elementary News broadcast.
  3. Encourage students to create their own mashups (maybe for advocacy projects for our service learning unit).

A final thought. Remixes and mashups can be great ways for students to build on ideas from the past and put their own spin on them, as long as they are citing their original sources. After all, without remixes and mashups, how would our students learn about the history of rap?


Jennifer Byrnes

My name is Jen and this is my 10th year as an educator. I am a fourth-grade teacher at the American School of the Hague. I have lived and worked in the US, Uk, Italy, China and the Netherlands. I have taught grades K-4.

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