Why Do We Break Copyright?

I usually begin each new art project or lesson with my ES kids by first talking about what we are going to do.  Then I show them some samples by different artists or examples produced by former students, if it is a project I have done before.  Lastly, I  demonstrate what is to be done that day or with the whole project.  Inevitably, I get a number of students in the class copying my idea or work.  It always drives me crazy.  The only way around this seems to be for me to explicitly say that they are not allowed to do what I just showed.  Even with me saying this or showing them why they shouldn’t, it is often not enough to stop everyone from doing it.  In the end, I still get some children doing this; am I then saying to my students that it is alright to copy?  Is this the beginning of them copying things from a young age?

We as a society seem to like to copy things.  We copy ideas, music, texts, quotes, designs, clothes, money, everything.  The older we get the better we get at it.  We want to copy things that we can’t necessarily have when we want it.  That becomes a problem as then we are infringing on the copyright of others.

So why do we break copyright on different things?  I guess there are so many reasons for this such as:

·   We want to copy great music from one format to another or to share with a friend.

·   We can’t come up with a great way of saying something in a paper we are writing so we copy from the book.

·   We copy clothes or fashion accessories so we dress “better” than we can afford to.

·   We copy or buy illegal movies so we don’t have to pay full price at the theater or for the DVD.

·   We copy images to enhance something we are working on.

·   We copy because we don’t know what the laws are.

·   We copy stuff so we can make money off the work and effort of others.

·   My personal favorite is using copied software because the original software won’t work.

So what do we as teachers do about it?  Obviously we will try and teach the concept and implications of copyright to our students.  However, is that as easy as it should be?  As we teach in different international schools here in Japan, there are many confusing implications to this.  First of all, do we teach the copyright laws as they pertain to Japan?  Should we teach the copyright laws of the USA as we are US curriculum based?  Do we teach the laws of the individual countries that students are from and that are more applicable to them in the long run?  Do we give a general overview of copyright that is not completely applicable to any one country?  And the questions could go on and on.

In the end, copyright and the issues associated with it are not always very clear and concise.  Coming up with the correct answer that will suit everybody will be very difficult and time consuming.  Each country has its own “right” answers that are probably not the same as another country’s.  If we can’t agree to the rules governing copyright on a global scale, does this confusion not lead to more people looking for holes in the system so they can copy?

So what do I do when a 7 year old copies my example or the work of the child beside them?  I keep on trying to instill the differences between right and wrong.

Picture of copy machine by Brett Neilson found on Flickr.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/brettneilson/3522763796/

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3 responses to “Why Do We Break Copyright?

  1. Your question is a good one. I think I might add that because we are living in a society with instant gratification, it takes more effort to create something original. There may also be a fear in young children that if they create something different from the sample that they aren’t doing it correctly. I think young children usually want to please so they think they are going to please the teacher by following the example that was given to them. For high school students I think it is more of, “I’m too busy, it’s due tomorrow and I don’t have a choice.” Easy excuses when in reality it is a lack of planning on their part, more often than not.

    I guess the best thing we can do is to teach lessons specifically on examples of good digital citizenship and to encourage creativity in our students. Have you tried not showing an example at the beginning of the lesson? Do you get more variety that way?

  2. Thank you for sharing your concerns.
    I had the chance to meet with a Calligraphy master who was in Tokyo on a short visit. She teaches in New York City, so she is familiar with the US copyright issues. I asked her, “Why do we copy the master’s work day after day to learn the specific way of using the brush to form the certain Kanji characters?” Her answer was that we acquire the use of the brush to make certain lines by looking at the masters’ work as a guideline. Nobody can possibly copy a masters’ work like a Xerox copy, therefore the student’s work can’t possibly break the copyright laws. However, if a student doesn’t learn to produce his/her writing without looking at the master’s work, the mastering of the calligraphy is not achieved. She further explained that practicing calligraphy using the master’s work as a guideline is a way to establish the student’s own style.

    When students producing artwork that is very similar to your sample troubles you, guiding them to view your work in an iterative, step-by-step fashion may teach them the skills to produce their own versions. Once students understand the details of the process of creation, instead of focusing on the results, they will be able to apply the skills they learned with confidence and create original work. They won’t be able to refrain from expressing their own creativeness. Whenever I visit major museums like the MET and Uffizi, I see art students actually setting up easels by the paintings to copy great works such as those of Rembrandt and Renoir. These students are trying to learn the specific techniques of paintings by copying the masters’ works (I understand that the museums only take a certain number of students per day, but since forging is illegal, and it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone, I doubt the museum is preoccupied with the number of students).

    When anyone submits copied work as an original creation, the copyrights are broken. But copying as a step towards learning to express one’s own creativity in learning process differs greatly from plagiarism. As a student of calligraphy, I continue to discover my own creative abilities while practicing the techniques used by numerous scholars over 1500 years, and copying an old 1000-character Chinese poem.

  3. Lots of good points – especially the challenge of trying to teach the specific laws. I’m sure your classroom is the same as mine, with students from many different countries, so many that it would not be realistic to teach about the laws from each of them. So, then where do you focus your attention? I like your idea of staying true to the idea of right and wrong. It’s a simple concept for students to understand – if you say it’s yours it must be originally yours. If it’s used from anywhere else, give credit. That’s the message I try to pass along to my students. It may not be perfect, but I feel it covers the basics.

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