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Platform Innovation: Simplifying Digital Content Use in Teletherapy

Today digital content is everywhere. And, in working with students, it’s powerful.

“When it comes to students today, what we often see is that nothing is real unless it has an online component. It doesn’t exist unless it’s virtual,” said Kyle K. Courtney, an attorney, currently working as the copyright advisor for Harvard University.

Digital content is particularly powerful for therapists working online with students with special needs, as it can help them keep their students engaged during sessions and progressing toward their therapy goals. According to the report, Equity Matters: Digital & Online Learning for Students with Disabilities, “the flexibility of digital learning materials…can address the variable learning needs of elementary and secondary students with disabilities in ways difficult or impossible to otherwise achieve.”

But, with therapy sessions being done increasingly online in class and from home, it is more important than ever that those serving children through teletherapy have an understanding of digital rights. So let’s look at some of the key topics in digital rights, how they apply to teletherapy content, and how PresenceLearning is simplifying these concerns for providers with its enhanced premium library.

Understanding Copyright

Digital content created by publishers is protected by copyright law. Additionally, publishers may add licensing limitations to their agreements of how their content may be shared, distributed, or displayed. So the content is protected by both the copyright and the license terms.

“Copyright can be a double-edged sword,” said Courtney. “But I’m optimistic. If technology allows us to reach more children, there is a way to meet that middle ground between the protection that publishers want and the access that students, therapists, and educators need when using technology.”

Copyright infringement occurs when a person copies, distributes, or displays all or part of a copyrighted work without appropriate authorization. Today’s therapists, on top of their clinical skills and talents, are expected to have a working knowledge of what is allowed and what is infringement. So what do therapists need to know as they use and share materials online with students?

Navigating Fair Use: The Safest Path

Online content is tricky because it has the ability to give users exactly what they need on demand; but just because you can find it, doesn’t mean you are authorized to use it. There is an underlying ecosystem of copyrights that affect the use of content. In the education field, it’s important to have some understanding of fair use in order to be able to navigate it. Fair use provides that, in some cases and in certain contexts, content may be used without permission to serve an educational purpose. But even when a therapist is using content for a session with a student, it may not be considered fair use if that therapist is generating income from the session.

“Even though fair use helps educators, it does not mean educational use is a ‘free-for-all,’” said Courtney. “You need to use it properly. Fair use is the user doing that balancing act, and that is where knowledge is essential.”

It’s imperative that therapists, who are digital content users, rely on publishers to clarify what they do and don’t allow. It’s important to read or refer to a publisher’s terms of use or copyright page. But even with the best intentions, it’s not always easy to find a clear answer on what is allowed digitally, or to find a path to properly pay for digital use. In the absence of clear publisher statements on digital use, users should assume that they are not authorized to use the content.

The safest path, therefore, is to use only materials explicitly purchased for digital use in a commercial setting, or 100% self-created materials (meaning that no third-party images or content were used in the creation of the materials).

Those interested in finding and customizing new materials for digital sessions can look for content that is available in an open-source resource such as Creative Commons, where content is allowed by the creator to be used and shared freely. In these cases, the content is still copyrighted, but the creator selects a Creative Commons license to give others the right to share, use, and build upon the work.

“If you really want to find a specific type of content, there is a distinct advantage in using what is available through open access or Creative Commons licenses,” said Courtney. “These resources are basically saying to educators: Please use this resource with my permission, just make sure you cite back to me. Then it is a citation with impact.”

The Premium Library: A Confident Path Forward

In the early days of teletherapy, PresenceLearning adopted a community approach to content, placing responsibility with users to verify that they had the right to upload and share any content that they brought to the platform. As online therapy became more widely used through and beyond COVID, publishers began to focus more sharply on digital use, creating more risk for our users. Individual users who had purchased digital files or physical workbooks and uploaded them digitally for their own use in their therapy sessions were caught in the crossfire of litigious publishers claiming that a purchase of materials did not entitle therapists to use those materials online or to display them on a screen. This dynamic, while by no means pervasive, led us to conclude that it was no longer appropriate to place the burden on our platform users to understand the complexities of digital content rights.

“We have moved away from the earlier approach of allowing for community uploading of materials, having learned that even with clear direction given, it’s confusing for individual therapists to know what they do and don’t have the right to use and share,” said Kristin Martinez, clinical director at PresenceLearning. “Our goal is to simplify the workflow for providers through digital tools.”

The PresenceLearning therapy platform removes the burden from therapists by offering a digital content library that gives users access to a range of owned and licensed online games, activities, and content that allow therapists to customize content for each child’s therapy session. This change was made on behalf of therapists, so that they can be confident that they are only using authorized materials in the PresenceLearning platform.

The PresenceLearning library contains only digital content licensed directly from leading publishers (see recent news on some exciting content partnerships here and here). Content expressly created and authorized for digital use creates a better experience for therapists and students, as interactive content made for a digital environment is better for everyone.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice. Digital content users should consult the terms and conditions of the technology and content they are using and perform their own due diligence.

Learn More

Looking to learn more? Courtney recommends two books: Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators by Carrie Russell and Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions by Kenneth Crews as helpful guides.

Other resources for guidance and information:

Circular 1: Copyright Basics

Videos about Copyright:

U.S. Copyright Office YouTube Channel

About the Expert

Kyle K. Courtney is a lawyer and librarian dedicated to issues including copyright, access, and preservation. He serves as copyright advisor and program manager at the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication. His “Copyright First Responders” initiative is in its ninth year, spreading from Harvard to libraries, archives, and other educational institutions across the country. He serves as an Advisor to the American Law Institute, helping to draft the first Restatement of Copyright; cofounded Fair Use Week; and maintains a dual appointment at Northeastern University. He holds a J.D. with distinction in Intellectual Property Law and an MSLIS and is a published author and speaker on the topic of copyright, technology, libraries, and law.

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