Return to Index Page
Legal Considerations of my Capstone project.

 


Introduction


There are two main legal considerations I had to take into account while creating my Capstone project for Cambridge College: 1) Do I need to formally copyright my work so that it remains my property that no one else can use without my permission? 2) Do I need to get formal permission to use any work used in my project that is not created by myself? In the following paper I will explain my views on these issues.

top


I) Do I need to formally copyright my work so that it remains my property that no one else can use without my permission?


First of all, as Brad Templeton states in 10 Big Myths about copyright explained, "...almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not." As soon as these keystrokes are entered and I create my own work it becomes protected under present copyright laws. In fact any postings I make to the internet have the same protection as works published in other mediums. As listed under the US Copyright Office my work is safe from unlawful use for a period of 70 years after I am deceased. Under these laws nobody can reproduce, prepare derivative copies or distribute copies of my work without my permission. Although it is possible for me to formally submit my work for copyright protection, it is not necessary.

In fact, under Title I of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, my work is protected worldwide by laws no less stringent than those found in the United States. This is an important note because the Internet is the first medium of its kind. As soon as a page, picture, movie, etc. is published on the Internet it becomes accessible to any person in the world. Since copyright laws vary greatly in other countries this act guarantees that my work cannot be willfully used anywhere in the world without my permission.

I do have to be careful about having contributors to my work as this may cause a duality of ownership which may limit my rights. To protect myself I had my sponsors sign a contract stating that I keep full ownership of the site, but that they may use and adapt it with my future permission.

There was also an issue I had to deal with about "works made for hire". Under Circular 9 of the 1976 Copyright Act a "work made for hire" is defined as "...a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment". Since I created my Capstone project as a means to obtain my Master's Degree to continue my career in teaching it could be argued that the project was made within the scope of being employed at Natick High School. As a result, under Circular 9, the project would be the property of my employer, the town of Natick. The issue here is that I am no longer employed at Natick High School and do not want them to have any ownership of the site. To protect myself I made sure that all work on the project was done on my own time, using my personal equipment, not the school's. Therefore my former employer cannot claim any ownership rights and I will continue to have full rights to use, distribute and expand my Capstone project.

top


II) Do I need to get formal permission to use any work used in my project that is not created by myself?

As I have seen from the many readings for the Legal and Ethical Issues for Educators class I recently took at Cambridge College the laws for using Internet materials are numerous and not easily understandable. The laws I do understand are those for "fair use" and laws for the use of material in educational environments.

Under the Copyright Act, the "fair use" statute states four factors that must be considered before using a copyrighted material without the owner's permission. I will list these four factors and how they pertain to material used within my Capstone project.

Under the First Factor (purpose and character of the use) the material must be used for nonprofit educational purposes. Clearly my Capstone project is going to be used for educational purposes, as what I have created is a site for my students to get material from lessons I have given in class. I also have no plans to sell this site and obviously would not ask students to pay for access. If I do decide to sell the program in the future than I will need to get permission for any material I used that was not my own work.

Under the Second Factor (nature of the copyrighted work) the extent of copyright laws as it pertains to the material being used must be considered. For instance, if you are mentioning Disney characters in your work in one thing, but if you plan on using pictures of these characters you are going to run into some troubles. In fact, most works of fiction are more closely guarded than academic works. My Capstone project does not contain any material that is widely known, used or has any undue copyright issues attributed to it.

Under the Third Factor (amount and substantiality taken) you are limited to the amount of the works you have used. The extent that I have copied anything that is copyrighted is very minimal and is limited to short excerpts like those included in quotations on this page. If I had copied a whole textbook and placed it onto my site without permission then I would be in trouble, but I have created all of the examples, problems, worksheets and quizzes myself.

Under the Fourth Factor (effect on potential market for protected work) you must not either profit from the material you used, nor may you take away potential profit from the original authors. Again, if I had copied a textbook onto my site so that students did not have to buy it from the publisher it would be unlawful. This act would take money away from the publishers, since students could get the same material from my site at no cost. Also, if I used someone's work in my site without permission, and then sold the site, or charged for access to it, then I would be violating the laws. As I stated before, all of the material is of my own making, and I do not plan on profiting at all from this site.

Given the above discussion of the "fair use" laws and how they pertain to my Capstone project, I do not believe that I have broken any copyright laws and that any of the material I used without permission definitely falls under the pretense of "fair use".

Even though I have already stated that all work is solely mine in this Capstone project, I do believe that I will be further protected if the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act of 2001is enacted. This act was created to protect teachers from copyright infringement for material they use in live classrooms, in distance education, and in making ephemeral copies of work. If I had used copyrighted material in my Capstone I believe I would have been covered under the TEACH Act as long as I was able to prove that the material was solely used for students officially enrolled in my classes. I would have also had to take the site off-line when it was not directly being used, as the TEACH Act specifies that the work should not be accessible for longer than the class session.

Lastly, in my proposal I stated that the reason I created my Capstone project was to create a site for students that could not attend class on a regular basis. Over my years of teaching I have found this to be a continuing problem in today's educational environment. Many students miss class for many different reasons and quite a few of these students fall behind in the lessons because of this. As a teacher it is also very difficult to keep a current grade on these absent students. Section 110(2) of the TEACH Act would cover my work for students "...whose special circumstances prevent their attendance in a classroom".

top


Conclusion

After considering all of the legal copyright issues that I have read and seem to understand, I do not believe that I have violated any laws in creating my Capstone project. I also believe that I am sole owner of the project and that it is protected under the copyright laws just by its sheer existence.

top