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The subversive view of copyright

It was this posting on LM_Net about downloading YouTube videos to one's hard drive that triggers this post:

This has been the subject of a lot of discussion on the Australian list because, according to the Terms and Conditions of Use, you cannot do this without the express permission of the video owner.

This is from the Terms of Use website
"You may access User Submissions solely: for your information and personal use; as intended through the normal functionality of the YouTube Service; and for Streaming. "Streaming" means a contemporaneous digital transmission of an audiovisual work via the Internet from the YouTube Service to a user's device in such a manner that the data is intended for real-time viewing and not intended to be copied, stored, permanently downloaded, or redistributed by the user. Accessing User Videos for any purpose or in any manner other than Streaming is expressly prohibited."
This was brought to our notice here when one of our members noticed that Jamie McKenzie was advocating downloading clips in an article he had written, so she wrote to him and he changed what he had written!

I have obviously been reading too many comments from people like Tom Hoffman, Peter Rock and Stephen Downes since this was my reaction...

I say go ahead and download YouTube videos regardless of what the "terms" say. Here is why:

  1. I sincerely doubt there is any case law existing that would indicate whether YouTube's statement holds any legal water. When such a condition exists, you should ask yourself if it is any harder to ask forgiveness than permission when making a decision that is questionable. If you are abiding by _most_ of the fair use indicators and it leads to a better educational experience, don't wait for permission. Just do it. (Jamie, don't be a wimp!)
  2. We should stop wasting our time fussing about this petty ante stuff. Downloading a YouTube video has about the same degree of criminality as stealing a sugar packet from a restaurant or driving 2 miles over the speed limit. Yeah, technically it may not be legal - but who really cares except those folks who never left Kohlberg's Law and Order stage of moral development. How is a kid downloading a illegal song any different from us stealing an apple from a neighbor's tree when we were young? - other than the fact we were simply mischievous and today's kids are criminals!

rant.jpgI am growing more and more convinced that we are simply tying ourselves in knots worrying about what people shouldn't be doing - especially on petty matters. (Who exactly suffers if a movie is shown in school as a reward rather than in direct F2F instruction?) Perhaps we should approach copyright to teaching people what rights they do have, about being honest when we don't know if something is legal or illegal and erring on the side of the consumer, and about using the morality of a situation rather than the legality to make a judgment. Ask me, we are genuinely in danger of creating a bunch of scofflaws out of our kids and teachers. (Read a more erudite expression of this on Joyce Valenza's blog.)

OK, have at me. Strip me of my library epaulets. Drum me out of the league of copyright cops.

But I said it and feel better for it.

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Reader Comments (10)

And said it well, too.

April 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

Awesome post. I think it speaks poorly of our profession that we are all too often seen as "The Copyright Nazis" when all along we could have been helping rather than hindering our teachers.

April 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Wham


April 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

OK - I'll confess too. In my district, the Library Services staff have been going to campuses doing training on NetTrekker recently. When we show the image search feature, we've been telling teachers that they and their students can save the images for use in projects, presentations and lessons - without saying a word about getting permission first. Every time we do it, I cringe a little inside, but really - who is it hurting to use web site images in this way?

April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary Woodard

I speed at times, I've downloaded songs (and other things), and I've downloaded YouTube videos. While I do agree with you for the most part, the trouble is that when we're in front of students, we're not just average people, we're role models.

Typically, role models are held to higher standards than the average person. And when a role model 'bends the law', those that look up to them aren't going to know where to draw the line.

What do you do when a student is caught downloading "Horton Hears a Who" from Bit Torrent? And what do you do when that same student says, "But Mr. Johnson said it was ok to download videos. He did it on YouTube."

It's a pretty fine line. What we do in a personal life is one thing, but as educators I think we need to be pretty careful of which side we walk on.

April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Dembo

Hi Shannon,

I think we could stand to shift our focus...


April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Mary,

This is a perfect example of over emphasizing copyright limits. I am quite sure your students are well within fair use boundaries to use images they find so long as they are attributed.

All the best,


April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson


I think you make a great point.

I once had an interesting conversation with my son after I found that he had downloaded an illegal copy of one of the Lord of the Rings movies onto the hard drive of the family computer. I asked him if he didn't feel bad about depriving Peter Jackson whom he greatly admires and his crew of their compensation. His reply:

Dad, I paid to see the movie twice. I will buy at least two versions - the first one and then later a director's cut - when they are available. I'm not sharing this download. Who am I hurting and who's not making money?

Immoral or differently moraled? Do role models simply follow the law or do they articulate and question why we have laws and follow them?

I have lots more questions about this than answers!

Thanks for writing,


April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

This is a tough one. If one says it is ok to download music and videos off the web, then we are perceived as breaking copyright or breaking the law, which most of us feel uncomfortable about doing. If one says it is not ok to download stuff of the web, then we are thought of as the "copyright police." It seems like some in the library world delight in the role of being the copyright cop. I don't think this encourages young people to want to come into the library or work with the teacher-librarian,though, because they are all downloading music and videos anyway. With the school library staff here in Clovis, we just talked about if it is ok to just purchase a DVD from a store and then show it to an entire class. This was a copyright lesson for all of us - no, this is against copyright. So, yes, it is important to talk about it. But, I wonder if this will be an issue in a few years when videos will be all over the web similar to how newspaper and magazine articles are now? And, do you remember in the early days of the web when people were suggesting that you needed to get permission to link to another person's website? I did that a little bit, but, heck, I thought it was flattering to have someone link to your website and promoted that person and what they had done, so I gave up contacting others. Showing other people's YouTube videos promotes their video so they get more "views" which, for the digital native generation, is what it is all about!

April 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob Darrow

Hi Rob,

Good to have you weigh in here.

Actually, I believe your showing of a DVD from the local Wal-Mart to a class is just fine so long as it relates directly to the curriculum. If not, you need a public performance license regardless of its origin.

This is a case-in-point for the overly complex and often seemingly senseless state of current intellectual property laws.

I'm going to continue to blog about this. I hope you chime in when you will.



April 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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