Lesson 8: Intellectual Property


Question of the Day: What kind of rules protect everyone's rights when we use each other's content?

Starting with a discussion of their personal opinions on how others should be allowed to use their work, the class explores the purpose and role of copyright for both creators and users of creative content. They then move on to an activity exploring the various Creative Commons licenses as a solution to the difficulty in dealing with copyright.


Until this point the only content that students have used on their web pages is their own, but in the next lesson they will be adding images to their sites. Before they do so, they need to understand the rules governing how to legally use content they find on the web. We use the Creative Commons license as a clearer alternative to the more restrictive standard copyright and guide students through searching for, using, and properly citing Creative Commons licensed media.

Assessment Opportunities

  1. Explain the purpose of copyright.

    In the wrap up journal prompt, check that students are thinking of reasons that people may want their intellectual property covered under copyright law.

  2. Identify the rights and restrictions granted by various Creative Commons licenses

    In the activity guide, check that students are choosing licenses and providing explanations consistent with the given scenarios.


Lesson Modifications

Warm Up (10 Minutes)

Activity (20 minutes)

Wrap Up (10 mins)

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Students will be able to:

  • Explain the purpose of copyright.
  • Identify the rights and restrictions granted by various Creative Commons licenses.


  • Preview Creative Commons Overview - Video. You may need to download it before school if YouTube is blocked.


Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Teachers

For the Students


  • Copyright - the exclusive legal right to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same


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Teaching Guide

Lesson Modifications

Attention, teachers! If you are teaching virtually or in a socially-distanced classroom, please see these modifications for Unit 2.

Warm Up (10 Minutes)

Use of Your Work

Teaching Tip

These prompts aim to relate broader questions of copyright to students' own experiences creating and sharing content online. To make this hit close to home you may want to change the prompts to pick particular forms of social media that students are interested in. If you know students don't use a lot of social media, then alter the prompt to reflect another area where your students might think their own creative work was used inappropriately.


All of you have been working hard to create a new website that you're going to publish to the world. When you publish something, though, it can be hard to control what other people do with it. Sometimes people use our work in ways that don't seem fair to us. I'm going to describe a few situations for you. If you think what happened was fair, stand up. If you think it was unfair, sit down.

  1. You take an awesome picture and someone puts it on their social media account with your name beside it.
  2. You write a story and someone else publishes it and says that they wrote it.
  3. You write a song and someone sings it to her friends.
  4. You write a song and someone sings it at a concert and makes a lot of money.
  5. You take a picture and someone else Photoshops it and puts the new version on his web site.

Discussion Goal

This discussion serves to get students thinking about the problem before introducing them to the Creative Commons solution. As students discuss the rules that they would like for their own work, make sure to emphasize and highlight the principles that correspond to the Creative Commons properties that they will explore later in the lesson.

Prompt: What rules would you make for people who want to use your creative work?

Discuss: Have students journal individually, then share with a neighbor, and finally discuss as a whole class.


It's okay if not everyone agrees how they want their work to be used. Copyright law says that whoever creates new content, such as a picture, a story, or a song, gets to decide how other people are allowed to use it.

Key Vocabulary:

  • copyright - the exclusive legal right to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same

Question of the Day: What kind of rules protect everyone's rights when we use each other's content?

Activity (20 minutes)

The Creative Commons Solution


Copyright is granted the moment something is created, so unless explicitly told otherwise, we have to assume any picture, video, or other media we find online is fully covered by copyright law, which means that no one else can make copies or post it online without permission.

Sometimes, though, we want people to share our work so that more people can see it. The Creative Commons (CC) license was developed to help content creators have more specific control over how other people can use their work.

Display: Present the video to the class. This video is from the McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph.

Group: Pair students.

Distribute: Give each student a copy of the activity guide.

Teaching Tip

As students go through the guide, the goal is not for them to memorize all aspects of the various licenses, but to have an understanding that creators can choose how their work is to be used by other people. This activity should prepare them to legally and responsibly use images that they find on the web in their own web sites.

Licensing Your Work

License Components

The first portion of this activity guide covers the components of a Creative Commons license. Push students to think critically here about both the value each component adds to the creator, but also the ways it might limit the cultural exchange of ideas, connecting the components of the license to the scenarios that they considered earlier in the class.

Content Corner

Students may also be curious about how to attribute pictures that they take themselves. You can remind them that as the content creators, they can choose the license that they want to use, and list themselves as the creator along with their chosen license.

Other Options

The second part of the guide introduces students to other licenses and scenarios that they will likely encounter as they search for images.

Choosing the Right License

Discussion Goal

Goal: While there may not be a specific "right" license for each of these scenarios, encourage students to always consider whether the license they chose is more restrictive than it strictly needs to be. One of the design goals of the Creative Commons license is to increase the amount of creative material available to the general public, promoting the sharing of intellectual property for the common good. With this in mind, we should only be adding the minimal restrictions needed to meet the content creator's wishes.

The second page of this activity provides students with four CC licenses and two content creator scenarios. For each scenario, students are asked to evaluate which of the four provided licenses is the least restrictive but still addresses the concerns and needs of the content creator.

Discuss: Ask several students to share out their responses to the Choosing the Right License scenarios. Encourage discussion and debate if students identified different licenses for the same scenarios.

Image Hunt

The last portion of the guide prompts students to find images of their choosing and identify the licenses under which they were published.

Because we can't know which sites might be blocked in your district, we've avoided pointing students to a specific search engine. Not all search engines make it easy to set Creative Commons filters - some of the easiest include:

  • Creative Commons Search
  • Google Image Advanced Search
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Flickr Creative Commons

As with any site with crowdsourced content, search engine results will change from day to day, and some of those results may be inappropriate for the classroom. You may want to check these sites shortly before displaying them to the class, and decide what is best for your classroom.

Share: Allow students to share the images and licenses that they have found, whether the images could be included on a student web site, and if so, what rules the student would need to follow to use the image.

Wrap Up (10 mins)

Your Own CC License

Question of the Day: What kind of rules protect everyone's rights when we use each other's content?

Assessment Opportunity

As students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various types of licenses, make sure that they recognize that copyright is intended to protect the rights of content creators, such as themselves. These rights include being recognized as the creator when the work is displayed, or deciding who can use and make money off the work.

Key Vocabulary:

  • copyright - the exclusive legal right to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same

Journal: Think about some of the photos, drawings, and written work that you have created in the past, or even the web site that you will create in this class. Without a clear license, all of those things are covered under the fully restrictive copyright. Which Creative Commons license would you rather use (if any) and why?

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Teaching Tip

Student Instructions

Standards Alignment

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CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

AP - Algorithms & Programming
  • 3A-AP-20 - Evaluate licenses that limit or restrict use of computational artifacts when using resources such as libraries.
IC - Impacts of Computing
  • 1B-IC-21 - Use public domain or creative commons media and refrain from copying or using material created by others without permission.
  • 2-IC-23 - Describe tradeoffs between allowing information to be public and keeping information private and secure.