A couple of weeks ago while my kids were having a dance party with their friends, I heard one of them say, “I claim copyright on that.” I chuckled to myself, thinking they must have heard me talk about copyright at the dinner table, and I made a mental note to talk about whether dance moves can actually be copyrighted during our next family dinner.

Then a note came home from my fourth grader’s teacher last week noting that the class is learning about copyright law. So it wasn’t my scintillating dinner table conversation, but something else. But, really, copyright in elementary school?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember knowing anything about copyright in the fourth grade. Okay, to be fair, my fourth grade memories consist mainly of blurry images of Star Wars action figures and kick the can games, and while my friends and I might have “called” sitting in the “way-back,” we definitely never called “copyright.” Then again, we didn’t have the Internet and the ability to easily copy and paste information from digital resources without attribution.Teaching copyright to students

So it makes sense that now, in addition to teaching basic, modern research and writing skills to fourth graders (remember those enormous encyclopedia sets?), elementary schools are adding copyright basics to their curriculum as a way of stressing the importance of citing digital sources. So how does one begin to teach copyright law to elementary students? It is, after all, a complex mix of constitutional, statutory, and case law.

It turns out there are a fair number of resources out there for teaching copyright to students starting as early as kindergarten. I spent some time looking through them and I am glad I did. Using age appropriate material like this to talk about copyright issues with my kids is no guarantee that their eyes won’t roll, but it’s a start. And at least I’ll know where they are getting the motivation for “calling copyright” during play dates.

Here are some of the resources I found:

  • The non-profit coalition iKeepSafe created a copyright curriculum as part of their Internet safety and digital citizenship education efforts. This is apparently the curriculum that my kids are getting in their Alexandria City Public Schools. You can check out their curriculum here: iKeepSafe Curriculum
  • The Copyright Society has a “Copyright Kids” website that gives basic information and has an interactive “Yearbook Club” where kids confront and work out copyright issues with the aid of “Copyright Cat.”
  • Private company Cyberbee has an interactive question-and-answer format site designed to teach copyright basics, along with some curriculum suggestions.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation also created a curriculum for teaching copyright to high school students after the California legislature passed a law requiring schools accepting technology funding to teach about copyright, plagiarism, and Internet safety.
  • Finally, the Copyright Alliance Education Foundation has created a library of classroom curricula from kindergarten through high school.

So this holiday, if your kids, nieces, nephews, or grandkids talk to you about their copyright in the art on your refrigerator, you’ll know where it came from, and you can use these resources to talk to them about copyright, too.

Oh—and be sure to pass this along from me: While their choreography may be copyrightable so long as it is fixed in a tangible form, copyright law can’t stop their friends from copying their dance moves during a dance party!