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Getting your editorial policy
the right way

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by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

Part 1 of a 2-part blog on teacher plagiarism and copyright issues

Teachers can be the world’s worst thieves without ever meaning to be.

We’ve all done it — sometimes out of panicked need, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because we think our classroom is some sort of copyright-free zone.

So just what CAN teachers use that others have created? Just what is fair use in the classroom? What may be legal but not exactly ethical for us to use? This is the first of a two-part series concerning OUR use of others’ creative work.

One area that creates just such a challenge is student media editorial policies. Everyone needs one, and plenty are posted online. Just what can or should a staff use?

From a legal standpoint, using another public school’s policy is not an issue. As SPLC director Frank LoMonte explained in an email, two public high schools are both government agencies, and government agencies don’t sue each other for stealing each other’s policies.

But what about the ethical standpoint? Can you take one of the many policies posted online and use it as yours? First, there are two main options here: model policies created for others to use and individual school policies that just happen to be posted online.

Both the Student Press Law Center model and Journalism Education Association version are just that – models developed for you to use and adapt to your own situation. One has blanks to insert your school name/publication and the other simply says NAME OF PUBLICATION where you need to individualize.

Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State and former SPLC director, said schools may not want to use the SPLC policy, fearing something from an advocacy group would be a red flag with some school principals. The JEA policy, in fact, came as a suggestion from Goodman that some administrators may look more favorably on something that came from an educational group. The JEA policy will be updated and posted online in a couple of weeks. Watch the blog for details.

Then comes choosing your policy based on a political standpoint. Using JEA’s policy might work. Sometimes even better would be to pattern yours after one from a well-respected “school down the road.” Two challenges here: Does the nearby school have a good policy, one that protects student speech and ensures the adviser isn’t caught in the middle, being forced to prior review and censor?

“If the adviser literally grabs another school’s policy, does a search-and-replace for the name of the school and knocks it off without even reading it, that’s obviously not a great idea since there may be things in the policy that aren’t a good fit — so you clearly want to do some independent thinking,” LoMonte warned.

But no matter how you access a starting point for your policy , it’s much more ethically sound – not to mention a good lesson for your students – to credit the source. The SPLC version has its © symbol and year right at the top. JEA explains the development of its policy so indicating that would be good, too. And if you get one from another school, crediting them with putting it together first is always a good approach.

Part 2 next month. What about using someone else’s lesson plans or handouts?

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