“They” tell us copyright is to protect people’s intellectual property and spur innovation. I agree that it is important to protect the ideas of creators; however, just look at the fashion industry. When designers copy each other, it actually benefits both them and consumers. When Steve Madden copies a Givenchy shoe, he is actually supporting the higher end designer and making their design more desirable and accessible. By copying high end products and selling them at a more affordable price, that shoe becomes a trend and an item that is seen and available for all. Diane Von Furstenburg invented the wrap dress in the 1974. I see women wearing this style dress all the time, and I doubt most are actually made by DVF.  She created a whole new garment that is now common and worn by the masses. If she had been able to copyright her idea, what would have happened to this iconic piece of fashion?

We want students to be creators and innovators, and remixing content is one way they can express themselves. It certainly is for COETAILers creating blogs! The grey area is where remixing becomes a copyright violation. When students are inspired by a video they have seen and make something similar, is that being creative or plagiarizing?

Students don’t often know what plagiarism is or that it is even a concern. It just isn’t on their radar. For example, in places I’ve lived in Asia, there is a common catch phrase, “same same but different.” Anything can  be copied. Pirated books, DVDs, clothing brands, etc. can be found easily and for cheap. Copyright law in some countries is either lax or not enforced. Furthermore, international students who are aspiring to attend university in countries with much stricter expectations are not always aware of the consequences of plagiarism. At some universities in the United States, plagiarizing a paper can even result in being expelled. 

According to The South China Morning Post, academic dishonesty accounted for 23% of Chinese students expelled in the United States.

I came of age when the internet was a new phenomenon. I didn’t get my first email address until university (that really dates me!). Research involved painstakingly going to the library, finding the book, reading it, finding the information, documenting the page number in case I needed it again, and using the details on the front page to create a citation. With the internet at our fingertips, students don’t need to go through this process. Ideas are now public and take much less effort to borrow. The debate remains about what needs to be cited from the internet. But ultimately, as teachers, we are assessing students on THEIR thinking, understanding, creations and innovations. Students still need to cite because we need confirmation that the work is theirs and not someone else’s.

It is easy to just copy-paste from the internet or word-for-word from a book, we all know that. Students are shocked when I show them how easy it is to figure out if they copied their work. I copy-paste a paragraph of their writing, put it into Google, and the work that was copied pops up. Additionally, it is often obvious because they can’t read the words or tell me what the writing actually says. Teaching about plagiarism comes down to research skills. We need to break down the process. Students should first learn how to use text features when reading and practice scanning for important information. The next step is how to take notes using phrases and key words. From there, they need to synthesize notes into their own sentences and paragraphs. We also need to teach them how to document where they found the information. One way to do this is simply through modeling. Teachers must model proper citations in our classrooms, show it in multiple contexts, and explain what the symbols and formatting mean.

A real life example at my previous school involved  a former colleague who took a video while on a game drive in South Africa. Naturally, she posted the scene of fighting giraffes on Youtube.  She was in for a surprise when National Geographic contacted her to receive permission to use her footage. She said yes and now the scene is used in Nat Geo documentaries. She had not copyrighted her video, and Nat Geo could have simply downloaded the footage and used it as they wished. In my opinion, Nat Geo showed good faith by contacting her to ask for permission.

With regard to teaching students how to cite, I gained an interesting perspective while attending an Edtech Team presentation by Patrick Green, Head of Technology at Singapore American School. He made the point that he used to spend 2 weeks each year teaching proper citations and where to put commas, spaces and everything else that is required. He realized that is was a waste of time because students still didn’t do it properly or understand why it was important. He now uses the citation website www.easybib.com. He is able to focus on the why of citations as opposed to the how. Plus he gets two weeks back to focus on more exciting things. This is a great way integrate technology into a classroom because it not only gives them a skill but demonstrates an important life lesson – there is often a website or app that make things much easier.

Image Sources:

Lee and Fiona Davis