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Activity 4: Sharing and building on the creations of others

15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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Activity Summary

  • Goals - The students will learn about the artistic, legal, and ethical aspects of borrowing from and contributing to the body of creative works that is part of their culture, through active learning that provides an opportunity and concrete, personal example of participating in this process.
  • Grade Level - Recommended for secondary and adult students.
  • Student Prerequisites - Students should be mature enough to give a project the thorough attention that published work deserves. In addition, it is very important that students doing this activity are capable of understanding and respecting the legal and ethical boundaries involved.
  • Teacher Expertise - It is recommended that the teacher be well-versed in the creative art that is the focus of the activity. It is also strongly recommended that the teacher be familiar with or capable of identifying the copyright status of any published work that the students use for this project.
  • Time Requirements - Schedule in-class time for students to work on this project if they are working in groups, if you want them to present their works-in-progress to the class, or if they need classroom resources and equipment in order to locate useful published works or to work on their own creations. Assign a due date that allows sufficient time for the creative process and for students to work on the project outside of class. If possible, schedule time for students to present their finished works to the class.
  • Objectives - Each student or group of students will choose a published work from which they would like to borrow elements or ideas. They will then develop a plan for creating a publishable original work that substantially borrows from the published work, in accordance with any relevant intellectual property laws and cultural mores. Once the plan has been approved, each student or group will then create the planned derived work.
  • Evaluation - Evaluation and feedback at every step are strongly recommended for this project. The teacher should evaluate/approve the choice of borrowed materials, the planned use of the borrowed material, and the licensing and publication plans for the new work before the creative phase of the project begins. An evaluation of the work-in-progress, including your concrete recommendations and expectations for finishing the project is also recommended, as well as a final evaluation. The rubric should include your usual standards for grading creative works, as well as assessment of the students' success in creatively, conscientiously, and legally using the borrowed work.

Materials and Preparation

  • Before doing this activity, students must have an understanding of the legal issues involved. Activities 1 and 2, or similar preparation, are strongly recommended. If you are planning to do this activity, make sure that the students come away from those activities with a clear idea of what types of alteration, derivation, or borrowing, are allowed under each type of license.
  • A classroom discussion of the cultural mores and ethical issues involved in borrowing from creative works is also strongly recommended. These usually go beyond legal issues into what people generally believe to be "good" or "bad" types of borrowing. For example, in the U.S. it is generally considered unethical to borrow from the title or concept of a popular work in order to confuse audiences into buying your work instead, while borrowing from a popular work in order to create a clever parody of it is generally approved. Such issues vary greatly from one culture to another. If students will be borrowing from works within their own culture, a simple classroom discussion may suffice. If some are considering borrowing from the works of other cultures, they should become acquainted with the issues that might be involved, in order to avoid giving harm or offense. If your classroom is sufficiently multicultural, again a classroom discussion might suffice. If not, you may want to assign relevant reading or research.
  • Prepare for this activity by planning and preparing for a creative project that is appropriate for your classroom. Consider not only what you want the students to learn from the creative process, but also what you want them to learn from the process of working with material created by others. For example, a student who harmonizes a borrowed tune will be learning a different lesson about creating music than a student who writes a new tune for a borrowed text. Set the parameters for the assignment (the types of creations, borrowings, and alterations you expect or will permit) to align with your creative-arts learning goals.


  • As part of the preparatory activity, have each student or group propose a project. The formal, written proposal should identify a portion of a published work that the student(s) will be modifying (for example, a soliloquy from a Shakespeare play) or borrowing (for example the harmony "changes" of a jazz tune), the specific plans for using it in a new work (for example, creating a parody of the soliloquy or a new tune to go with the jazz harmonies) and reasonable proof that the work can legally be used in that way (for example, evidence that the soliloquy was published before 1923 or that jazz "changes" are not considered copyrightable).
  • Review the proposals carefully, making sure that the works to be created are appropriate for your course goals, within the students' capabilities, and clearly legal. Require revised proposals if necessary.
  • If a proposal raises other issues (for example, if the proposed work is legal but could be considered an act of cultural appropriation), be sure to address those issues also as early as possible in the planning process.
  • Once the proposals have been approved, provide a time frame and support for the creative process that is in line with the way your class typically operates.
  • It is not necessary, but you may want to include the option of publishing the derived works. If so, once the creative process is well underway, follow the steps outlined in Activity 3 for publishing student-created works.
  • If at all possible, schedule time for students to share their creations with the class. Performances or displays should include appropriate attribution of the borrowed material and a short explanation of how it was incorporated into the new work.