In 2013, the rollout of ultrafast broadband for schools began with great fanfare. Our school just got on board this year. The stated goal of this significant technological step forwards was “to encourage collaboration and sharing of resources and knowledge between school communities and learners around New Zealand (“The network for learning”, 2012). Unfortunately, a significant legal barrier currently exists that prevents the realisation of this goal – New Zealand’s copyright laws. These laws have the potential to ride roughshod over collaboration if enforced to the letter of the law, and even at their most innocuous, they represent a significant barrier to innovation and collaboration in the education sector. The ethical dilemma that I face most frequently is my desire to share the resources that I create with other teachers and even students across New Zealand and even around the world. While the sharing of resources in a free and collaborative manner sounds like really positive step and one that should be free from any ethical dilemmas, it is illegal. According to the 1994 Copyright Act, any resources created by teachers currently employed in a New Zealand school is property of the school and permission must be granted by the board of trustees before it can be shared in any form. Forget making money from the brilliant teaching material that you create, even giving it away could potentially land you in hot water!
While people may be quick to dismiss this issue as nonsense given the fact that these laws are not enforced and teachers are constantly sharing resources, lesson plans and all sorts of other material related to the business of education, it is a significant issue. Section three of the code of ethics for certified teachers states that in order to fulfill their obligation to society, teachers will “teach and model those positive values that are widely accepted in society and encourage learners to apply them and critically appreciate their significance (“Code of Ethics”, 2015).” Willfully disregarding the law is not upholding the positive societal values. Section four also calls on teachers to “advance the interests of the teaching profession through responsible ethical practice (“Code of Ethics”, 2015).” There may be an obvious difference between illegal downloading episodes of Game of Thrones from torrent sites and sharing resources that you have created with other members of the profession but this is not the case in the eyes of the law. Although the chance of being either act resulting in legal sanctions are very low for both of these acts, they are both illegal and therefore represent a departure from the trust in which society places in teachers and a departure from professional standards. At this point, it is important to state that the fact that these totally different acts are comparable in a legal sense is ridiculous. Rather than supporting this state of affairs, I think it needs to be resolved the utmost urgency to ensure that learners in New Zealand have access to the best possible learning materials, not just those that are created in their particular school or shared illegally. Fortunately, Creative Commons represents a solution to this ethical dilemma and legal nonsense
Creative Commons represents a robust legal framework that would solve a range of legal issues whilst also promoting many key elements of digital citizenship if it were used more widely in the New Zealand education sector. Creative Commons would allow teachers to select from a variety of licenses that would allow for them to share, remix and materials that they create. This would encourage teachers to create more resources and share them more widely by freeing them from any legal uncertainties and creating a culture of attribution where people were acknowledged for their creativity, expertise and hard work. The introduction of Creative Commons policies into New Zealand schools requires only effort on the behalf of teachers and an open mind from Boards of Trustees. The use of Creative Commons in education has received approval from the government and many schools already have Creative Commons policies in place. It is now time for the rest of us to catch up and put an end to the nonsensical ethical dilemma which some of us face.