Little pirates

Gavel to Gavel

published in The Journal Record | September 20, 2018

By Rachel Blue

I just made myself unpopular at the parents’ presentation to learn about my middle schooler’s recently issued Chromebook. Listening to the principal describe how the kids are using the device, what protections the school has put into place to be sure they are not looking at inappropriate material or playing games on it, and how parents can check on a science grade, I asked the question: What are you teaching them about copyrights?

His immediate (and common) reaction was that surely this was fair use – the kids are pursuing educational goals. Nope. Fair use is subject to a fact-intensive analysis based on the type of use (commercial or educational), the nature of the work, how much of it you copied, and whether that copying impacted the market for the work. So, just because a student with a school-issued Chromebook copied something doesn’t make it automatic fair use.

To be fair, it’s tough to navigate. Many people think if there’s no copyright notice, it is OK to use the material, but this isn’t true. Copyright holders aren’t required to put a copyright notice on their works. YouTube is full of content that’s been posted by anyone and everyone, and a lot of it is infringing, leading to the sophisticated defense that “everyone does it.” It’s true that some providers of digital content encourage sharing, but look carefully at the terms and conditions of that site and others, and you’ll see that they actually make it your problem if you post someone else’s content without permission.

Copyright infringement can have serious financial and even criminal consequences. In an age where we can copy and paste almost anything we want, most grown-ups don’t really have a clear understanding of what’s fair and what’s not, so how can we expect it of kids? Fortunately, there are some great resources available to explain copyright ownership and asking for permission to use what’s not yours – licensing. For helpful information, check out such websites as,,, and

For younger kids, there are also practical filtering sites, like, which offer preapproved content available under Creative Commons licensing with correct attribution. For an even more basic approach, try this: If it’s not yours, ask permission. If you don’t get permission, don’t take it.

I guess they’re not going to make me a homeroom mother.