Wake Ed

Wake County may adopt school policy on copyright compliance

Bill Fletcher
Bill Fletcher

The Wake County school system may take an official policy position on the legally tricky issue of copyright compliance for its 18,000 employees and 159,000 students.

The school board’s policy committee agreed Tuesday to recommend having a separate policy on copyright compliance after debating whether doing so is more trouble than it’s worth. But the new recommended policy no longer has a section on the fair use doctrine amid concerns that its inclusion would give people a false sense of security about when they can use copyrighted materials.

Wake isn’t legally required to have a separate copyright policy, but school board members ultimately said it was important to take a stand.

“I’m not afraid of making the statement that, as part of our policy breadth, copyright is an important issue that you need to be aware of,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.

The new policy says “employees, students and visitors are prohibited from the use or duplication of any copyright materials not allowed by copyright law, fair use guidelines sanctioned by Congress, licenses or contractual agreements.”

The policy, which will go to the full board for approval, also warns that “willful or serious violations also are considered to be in violation of standards of behavior for employees and students and may result in disciplinary action.”

Currently, Wake warns about copyright infringement in various policies. Wake has copyright notice signs on copiers and teaches staff and students about digital citizenship.

As part of the ongoing review of the board’s policies, staff presented the committee on Tuesday with a new policy based on wording from the N.C. School Boards Association.

Much of the discussion Tuesday on the new policy focused on the section about the fair use doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. The policy explains that fair use is based on factors such as the purpose of the use and the amount used.

“The problem with fair use, as we’ve talked to with multiple attorneys as well as the School Boards Association, is that there’s no specific provision in the law that give a cut and dried what is fair use,” said Marlo Gaddis, senior director of instructional technology and media services.

Just last year, Wake found itself in a dispute when it was accused of copyright infringement by the organizers of the Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools.

School board attorney Jonathan Blumberg said Tuesday the fair use section was “super broad” and wouldn’t help teachers much in determining whether they can use the material. He suggested including in the policy that teachers get prior guidance before using copyrighted material.

School board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee, responded he didn’t want to put a burden on principal to provide approval for everything.

Fletcher cited examples of tricky situations such as putting potentially copyrighted photos on websites and teachers who want to make extra copies of music for their students.

“I don’t know where we fall down between guidance and I don’t know if the word protection is appropriate.” Fletcher said. “This is a whole thorny issue.”

Committee members agreed that it was best to remove the fair use section.

“With fair use, we’re creating a false sense of security that we don’t even know the answer to,” Martin said.

The committee also agreed to drop the first paragraph, which talks about supporting the limitation on the use of unauthorized duplication and not condoning any infringement on the property rights of copyright owners. Committee members said it’s inclusion would be fluff.

The committee also agreed to drop the section about providing training on fair use.

The changes shortened the wording to only what was originally the second graph of the new policy.