Research Project Guidelines
What You can do to help
your child copy right

It's tempting to simply click and copy when your child finds the perfect piece of information, the perfect photo, or the perfect illustration to use for that school report or scrapbook, or to email to a friend. But not only is it important for your child to learn how to express ideas for him or herself, it's also important for your child to understand that, in many cases, there are laws against copying the work (the intellectual property) of others—even when the source is cited.

Copyright is important because it protects creative work by making it against the law for anyone else to copy that work or use it on their own. Back in the days of paper and pencils, it was usually easy for students to know when they were copying the work of someone else. With computers, however, students now cut and paste text, or scan and copy images, so automatically that it's easy for them to lose track of what they have copied and what they have created themselves. That's why it is important for students to understand from the start that they have a responsibility to acknowledge ideas and information borrowed from others.

Here are some ideas you can use to help your child understand, and follow, the rules regarding intellectual property.

  1. To begin, talk with your child about copyright. Explain that copyright is important because it protects people's creative work (called intellectual property) by making it against the law for anyone else to copy it or use it as their own. Explain that copyright is designed to protect everyone's work—even the work that your child creates.
  2. Teach your child to look for the copyright symbol (©) on everything he or she finds. Talk about why that symbol is important—because it protects the person who created the work by prohibiting other people from using it without permission. Also explain that, even if there is no copyright symbol, the material is protected by copyright law unless there is a statement that says it is not.
  3. Help your child get in the habit of writing down the source for each piece of information or image that he or she finds when working on a school project—who produced the material and where your child found it (the name of the book or periodical, or the name and URL of the website). You might even want to create a simple form your child can use to stay organized when doing research. It might contain the following headings:
    • Name of my project
    • What kind of information I found (text, pictures,
      other graphics, sound, video, other)
    • Date I found this information
    • Who created this information
    • Where I found this information (the name of the book, periodical, CD, or DVD or the URL for the website)
    • What I found (in my own words) Your child can save all the forms for each project in a file on his or her computer. That way, he or she will always know where all the information came from. It will help to ensure that he or she doesn't accidentally use someone else's work without permission or without giving credit.
  4. Explain to your child that there are special rules when it comes to schoolwork. Your child can copy almost anything found in print or on the Internet for use in a school assignment, as long as he or she is careful to cite the source of the information. (This would also be a good time to talk about plagiarism—using the work of another person without giving proper credit.)
  5. Talk about the difference between schoolwork and hobbies or other non-educational activities. While it's generally okay to copy things (with credit) for a school assignment, it may not be okay to copy it to use in a personal project or to send to a friend. For Internet content, you and your child can usually check the "Terms of Use" section on the website to find out what restrictions there may be on your use of the site's content. When in doubt, however, the best way to share online information, photos, etc., is to copy and send the link to the webpage where it appears.