Standard Lesson

Technology and Copyright Law: A "Futurespective"

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students research past copyright disputes and their relation to technology innovations before predicting future copyright disputes that may arise from advancements in technology. They sort images of technology advancements into chronological order and compare these advancements with changes in copyright law. Next, students research and report on several instances of how copyright laws have adapted to encompass new technologies and discuss the role of technology innovations in recent copyright disputes. They brainstorm emerging technologies or technologies that they think will be adapted or invented in the future. Finally, they write newspaper articles predicting the outcome of current copyright disputes related to technology and predicting copyright issues that may arise with new and future technologies.

This lesson plan was developed as part of a collaborative professional project with the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

United States copyright law was amended ten times between 2004 and 2008; several of those amendments addressed issues arising from new technology. Thinking about adapting copyright law to cover new technologies gives students a new perspective on copyright law and law in general. Rather than seeing such laws as set rules that just exist, they can begin to see laws as tools that are created by society-that is, as fluid rules that change and adapt as society itself changes and adapts. In writing about their predictions for future copyright issues, students are challenged to truly understand the information they read about past and current copyright issues and ultimately apply this information to a new situation.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Image of an early computer, such as ENIAC




    1. This lesson is designed to be co-planned and co-taught by the classroom teacher and the school library media specialist. Meet to decide responsibilities for teaching the lessons and assessing student work, as well as to arrange logistics for using the library media center.
    2. Make an overhead of the Copyright and Technology Timeline.
    3. Make one copy of the Technology Timeline Cards for every two groups. Cut out the cards to create two sets.
    4. Make one copy of the Copyright Research Organizer, Copyright Article Assignment, Copyright Future Organizer , and ReadWriteThink Printing Press Layouts sheets for each student.
    5. The classroom teacher and library media specialist should review together the sample Writing Rubric and adapt it as needed to reflect classroom goals for grammar and mechanics, as well as content. Prepare an overhead of the rubric or make one copy for each group.
    6. Bookmark the Copyright Research resources on student computers.
    7. The classroom teacher and library media specialist should together test the Printing Press on student computers to familiarize themselves with the tool and to ensure that they have the Flash plug-in installed. Schools can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

      Student Objectives

      Students will:

      • research past and current copyright issues related to new technologies.
      • report on their research.
      • write newspaper articles predicting the future.


      Note: In addition to the stated NCTE/IRA standards, this lesson is also aligned to the following American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.

      • Standard One: Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge
        • Respect copyright/intellectual property rights of creators and producers.
        • Follow ethical and legal guidelines in gathering and using information.
      • Standard Three: Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society
        • Use information and technology ethically and responsibly.
        • Respect the principles of intellectual freedom.

      Session One

      1. Divide the class into small groups of students, and give each group a set of Technology Timeline Cards. Challenge students to place the technologies quickly in order from oldest to newest.
      2. Show students the Copyright and Technology Timeline overhead, and look together at the first date.
        • What technology do you think made it necessary to write the first copyright law?
        • What medium did the first copyright law cover?
      3. Briefly read through the other copyright changes on this timeline.
        • What do all of these changes have in common?
        • How does the order of the changes to the copyright laws relate to the technologies that students placed in order on the timeline?
      4. During discussion, students should note that the changes to copyright law correspond roughly with the new technologies they placed in order.
      5. Explain that copyright laws change over time to cover new technologies and new uses of technology as they develop. Sometimes this process creates problems, as new technologies are developed and sometimes abused before copyright law is adapted to cover them.
      6. Ask students to brainstorm with their group any recent disputes over copyright that they have encountered in the news or in daily conversations.
      7. When students have finished, ask groups to share their ideas with the class. Make a list on the board of all the disputes students noted. If the list is limited, mention and add some additional disputes, such as file sharing on YouTube; music downloads; the use of thumbnail images, links to news articles, and cached pages in Google Search and Google News; the use of freelance articles or photographs in digital versions of newspaper or magazines; or other copyright issues in the news. Copyright Timeline: A History of Copyright in the United States also has information about recent copyright disputes.
      8. Ask students which of the disputes on the list have something to do with technology. Circle the items they mention. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
        • What portion of the disputes they have heard about have something to do with technology?

        • Why might so many copyright disputes involve technology?

        • Is there a way to predict what copyright issues might arise from new technology or from technology that hasn’t even been invented yet?
      9. Explain that students are going to research some recent and current copyright disputes related to technology and report on them to each other. Assign a topic to each group from the list you created on the board.
      10. Give each student a copy of the Copyright Research Organizer handout and direct them to the Copyright Research resources you bookmarked before the lesson. Give students time on the computers to find at least one or two resources—print, audio, or video—about their topics.
      11. Have students complete the Copyright Research Organizer with information they have gathered about their topics. They can consult with other members of their group to pool their resources if desired.
      12. When students have completed their research organization, have groups “jigsaw” or break off into new groups comprised of one member of each original group. Students should take turns sharing information about their copyright issues with their new groups.

      Session Two

      1. Ask students to think back a few years as they consider the following discussion questions:
        • Are there any technologies that they use now that were not widely available a few years ago?

        • What are some of these technologies?
      2. Show students a picture of an early computer, such as ENIAC. Early on, when computers were so large, they were located at universities and other research centers and used in specialized ways. Few people could have imagined that computers one day would be small enough to be found in homes across the world. Nor would they have imagined the new copyright issues, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, that emerged from this use of computers.
      3. Ask students to brainstorm some existing technologies that we use one way today that may be used in new, innovative ways in the future. List students’ ideas on the board.
      4. Ask students to imagine 5 years in the future. What new communication technologies can they envision? How about in 10 years? 20? List students’ ideas on the board.
      5. Ask students to think about some of the copyright issues they encountered during their research and group work.
        • Could any of those copyright problems be solved with new technology?

        • For example, could technology be used to make it impossible to photocopy certain print or paper? How might such new technology work?

        • How would it help to solve the copyright problem?

        • What other problems might it solve?

        • What problems or challenges might it create?
      6. Explain to students that they now are going to use the information they have learned about copyright issues and technology, as well as some of the new technology ideas they listed, to predict problems and changes that may happen with technology and copyright in the future. They then will use an interactive tool to write articles explaining those predictions and combine the articles to create a “Copyright Futurespective” edition of a classroom newspaper.
      7. Give each student a Copyright Article Assignment sheet, and review it together.
      8. Share with students the Writing Rubric you will be using to grade their work. Answer any questions students have about the assignment.
      9. Have students answer the questions on the Copyright Article Assignment.
      10. After students have answered the questions and decided their article topics, give them a copy of the Copyright Future Organizer.
      11. Explain to students that they will plan their stories much as they planned their research reports. Normally, when writing a newspaper article, reporters use this structure so that they can be sure to include all the facts of the story. Since students are writing an article predicting the future rather than reporting on something that has happened, they will use the organizer in a slightly different way.
      12. Give students time to plan their article using the handout as a guide.
      13. Have students turn in their completed organizers. Together, review the organizers, and hand them back to students prior to the next session.

      Sessions Three and Four

      1. Return students’ completed organizers with classroom teacher and library media specialist comments. Allow time for students to adjust their writing plan based on educator feedback.
      2. Give students a copy of the ReadWriteThink Printing Press Layouts. Explain that they will be using an online tool to publish their articles and that this handout shows the layouts that are available for their use.
      3. Point out that some layouts have one large main article, while others have a shorter main article and two or three additional short articles. Students should think about which layout will work best for them and select a layout for their newspaper pages.
      4. Once students have selected a layout, ask them to work on the rough draft of their article(s). Prompt students to consider the size and number of articles in the layouts they have selected as they write their drafts.
      5. When students have completed their rough drafts, have them work with partners to peer review one another’s articles. The ReadWriteThink lesson Peer Review: Narrative explores some peer review strategies that could be adapted for use with students’ articles.
      6. Ask students to make revisions prior to the next session.

      Session Five

      1. Demonstrate how to use the Printing Press interactive:
          • Select a type of publication (newspaper), enter your name, and get started.

          • Select a layout.

          • Scroll through the tutorial, and show students how to turn the guide on and off.

          • Ask students for some ideas for a newspaper name. Agree on one as a class, and type it into the appropriate box. Type “Technology Section” in the appropriate box. All students will need to use these names in their work to create a cohesive paper.

          • Use the text tools to adjust the text.

          • Click finish, and then select “Print Single-sided Pages” to print.
        1. Have students type their articles into the tool, incorporating their revisions.
        2. Ask them to self-edit their finished work before printing.
        3. Caution students to print out their work, and check that the printout is correct before closing the tool.
        4. Compile students’ pages into one special “Copyright Futurespective” edition by binding together the pages.


        • Since issues related to technology and copyright are always changing, assign a pair of students as “roving reporters” each month. These reporters can report back to the group on a designated day with any updated news about copyright and technology issues the class researched, as well as any new copyright issues in the news. When a new topic catches students’ interest, they can create a special edition newspaper about it.
        • Explore more about copyright with the ReadWriteThink lessons Copyright Law: From Digital Reprints to Downloads and Exploring Plagiarism, Copyright, and Paraphrasing.

        Student Assessment / Reflections

        • The classroom teacher and library media specialist should observe students’ participation in the group research project.
        • Collect the Assignment Sheet, Copyright Future Organizer, and rough draft of each student’s article to assess collaboratively his or her writing process.
        • Work together to create a rubric to evaluate students’ final articles. Adapt this sample Writing Rubric to reflect the agreed-upon classroom goals for grammar and mechanics as well as content.


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