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Intellectual Property

Teaching Kids About Copyrights

For many educators, intellectual property (IP) is a topic that can be intimidating. From a lack of familiarity to the legal jargon that’s often used to discuss the subject, many factors can lead educators to avoid teaching IP altogether.

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), our goal is to help change this — not only because of the importance of IP and its relationship with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, but also because of its relevance in children’s everyday lives.


Explaining Copyright Protection

The symbol © indicates that a copyright has been claimed, which means that no one other than the creator or owner has the right to copy, give out, perform, or display physical or digital work without the owner’s permission.

Explain to your classroom that copyrights apply to creative expression. So while facts and ideas by themselves do not qualify for copyright, expressive works that discuss or concern facts and ideas, like books and articles, paintings, photographs and recorded music, can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to protect the way the author expresses their ideas or facts. This distinction allows others to freely discuss those same facts or ideas while at the same time incentivizing creators and ensuring that no one else can copy their expression and use it as their own.

As you guide your students to develop their identities as creators, you can also help them better understand and contextualize the power of copyright protections. Tell them what they create has value and ask them how they would feel if someone used or stole something they created without their permission. Explain that those negative feelings are the same ones their favorite artists experience when their creative work is used without their consent.

Although creative work that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression is automatically covered by copyright protection the moment it’s created, it’s important to note that not all work has these protections. For example, certain documents created by the U.S. government, including agency reports and NASA photographs, can be used freely.

Another important idea related to copyright is the concept of “fair use,” which allows the use of copyrighted work without the copyright owner’s permission for the purposes of research, news reporting, teaching, commentary and criticism. For example, fair use is what allows a news station to air a short clip of a band performing at a local festival as part of a news item about the event, even though the band’s performance may be subject to copyright.

If you’re incorporating invention education techniques into your curricula, consider implementing one of our many free STEM activities and exploring ideas concerning your students’ rights as creators of their invention prototypes.


Exploring IP at Camp Invention

In this summer’s all-new Camp Invention® program, Explore, children have the opportunity to engage in an experience called NIHF’s The Attic, where they’re tasked with creating their own unique designs and exploring ways to protect and market their creations.

Because copyright protections begin the moment a creative work is expressed in a tangible way, campers learn that copyright protections help them protect their amazing creations!


Learn More About Teaching IP

For more support in introducing students to IP, we encourage you to read more of NIHF’s “Guide to Intellectual Property” series by visiting our blog!

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