One of the most challenging issues related to digital information in schools is copyright. This is especially true in the time since one-to-one initiatives became common. One rationale for adding computing devices for each student to the budget was that textbooks (traditionally a very expensive resource) would no longer be necessary. While textbooks that are available as open educational resources, thus available for reuse and editing at no cost, many educators who teach without textbooks rely on other types of information, and some of those uses violate copyright protections.
When educational resources were print, the work of making physical copies of copyright-protected materials was expensive. In most cases, it was cheaper to purchase addition copies of a novel for English class, for example, than it was to make photocopies of a single copy. Regardless, many teachers were found standing at the photocopier to make copies of materials for students before, during, and after school.
When educational media was analog, for example VHS tapes, copyright-protected media could be copied, and many teachers had their own collection of pirated video materials. Despite the fact the video degraded over time, teachers valued their collections because they represented a significant investment of time and money. The costs of copying digital files, on the other hand, is effectively zero. Unless the files are protected with digital right management locks (which many educational videos are) digital files can be copied with a mouse click and the new files use a miniscule part of existing resources. For these reasons, it is very easy to make copies of file that one is not entitled to make.
Because copies can be made using the devices they manage, many IT professionals are expected to define procedures to reduce illegal reproduction of copyright protected files, help users understand the importance of following copyright regulations, and addressing violations of copyrights. Consider these situations which are all violations of copyright:
- Scanning paper versions of books or magazines and distributing the digital copies to students;
- Downloading images from the Internet and incorporating them into your materials;
- Extracting a digital audio file (commonly called “ripping”) from a compact disk and using it as background music in a presentation;
- Accessing textbooks publishers’ web sites to download and use the instructors’ resources or other supplementary materials without using the textbooks;
- Purchasing a single subscription to a database, then distributing the materials to students.
While ensuring teachers are following copyright laws is unlikely to be the responsibility of most IT professionals, they do have a role in pointing out when copyright has been violated to protect the school and themselves. They also work closely with librarians to promote responsible use of digital resources and to ensure the library materials are available to all users both on campus and off campus as their licenses allow.