FAIRFIELD — A new policy proposal under consideration in the local school district may help teachers know whether they are violating copyright laws when they, for example, project a copyrighted picture from the Internet onto a screen during a class.

Knowing how to stay on top of current copyright laws has become increasingly difficult for teachers in the digital age, according to Stewart Kinley, policy committee chairman in School Administrative District 49, which consists of Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield.

The committee’s proposed copyright compliance policy is meant to summarize federal laws that govern the reproduction of copyrighted works by educators.

Copyright law used to be much simpler, Kinley said.

“In a nutshell, because of copyright laws, we cannot reproduce materials we should be buying,” Kinley said. “The classic example is, if you have a worksheet or a workbook, you don’t stick that in the copier and produce 20 copies.”

Now, with it becoming common to store materials in the Internet-based digital cloud or establish real-time video links between instructor and student, the line has become more difficult to understand.

“It has become more esoteric,” Kinley said, “because of the cloud and the things you can download.”

For example, in distance learning, an instructor using video to teach students at remote sites essentially is sending copies of all course materials to each student, a potential violation of the law. Under the policy, these instructors are required to use technology to prevent students from copying the material, or keeping it once the class session ends.

Kinley said the policy could help to avoid a costly mistake for the district.

“The rules are very strict and the penalties are pretty severe,” he said. “We don’t want to go there.”

The law hasn’t changed with the Internet, but it has become easier to violate, according to Daina Nathanson, an attorney who handles intellectual property cases at the Portland-based firm Drummond Woodsum.

“It’s just so easy at the click of a button to highlight and copy something,” she said. “Information is now so readily available, and people are so used to downloading and printing or what have you.”

And while the Internet has increased access to information, the policy warns against teachers who might be tempted to copy and paste material into another format.

“The ease of copying materials from the Internet should not be used as an excuse for violating copyrights,” according to the policy.

Nathanson said a copyright policy is useful for any school or business whose employees might be skirting the law.

“It’s a good idea to make sure that staff and students are cognizant of the law,” she said.

Under the policy proposal, a music instructor who buys a copy of a song can’t edit the song in a way that changes the character of the music. For example, lyrics can’t be added to an instrumental piece. If a song already has lyrics, they can’t be changed.

The proposal also spells out rules for showing movies or television programming in class. Videos can be used for the purpose of instruction, but can’t be shown to students for entertainment purposes during, say, a school assembly or as a reward for passing an academic milestone.

The proposal was drafted using recently developed samples from the Maine School Management Association. Kinley said he thought it likely that other districts are going through the same process.

The committee approved a draft of the proposal Jan. 22. It will be presented to the board during a regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 7.

While the proposal under consideration is a draft, Kinley said it would be unusual for the board to alter its language.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com