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Monday
Nov172008

Fair use scenario - Miguel and the DVD

In a continuing series of scenarios that explore educational fair use issues. You comments are most welcome.

Miguel, a high school civics instructor, wants to use a short portion of the movie The Candidate to spur discussion on election reform in his class. To embed the the clip into his slide show, he will need to "crack" the copy protection scheme on the commercial DVD.

  1. What is the copyrighted material? Who owns it?
  2. Does the use of the work fall under fair use guidelines? Is the use transformational in nature? Can this be considered "educational" use?
  3. Which takes precedence - The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 that "makes it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures" or the Educational Fair Use Guidelines?
  4. What is your level of comfort in helping create such a product? Are there any changes or limits you might like to see that would make you more comfortable with this project?

Your level of comfort with this use of copyrighted materials: High 5 4 3 2 1 Low

Thanks to Miguel Guhlin at Around the Corner for the idea for this scenario.

Sunday
Nov162008

Books that sing and dance

Unintended consequences are outcomes that are not (or not limited to) what the actor intended in a particular situation. The unintended results may be foreseen or unforeseen, but they should be the logical or likely results of the action. Wikipedia

I enjoyed the (well-run) panel "Digital Books for Children: Blessing, Bane or Both?" led by professor Ann Carlson Weeks (International Children's Digital Library) at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit yesterday. Along with Ann, the panel included these e-book vendors:

OK, no insult intended, but each of the commercial panelists showed us some pretty similar products: books that have been digitized and made accessible online on a subscription basis. Many of these books have been taught to sing and dance through clever programming and design, creating materials that are meant to be "played" more than read.

These products have much to recommend them and great potential. Such collections may well give more children greater access to more quality literature. Books that are more interactive in nature may well attract and engage reluctant readers. Stories that read themselves aloud may well be a boon to struggling readers. This is a market (as much or more targeted to the classroom/reading teacher as the school librarian) that will mature and expand. Get used to it.

But of course I can find the dark clouds around every silver lining. Two intriguing questions were raised during the discussion:

  1. Why do we need print collections and school libraries (and librarians) with online collections like these? Used in conjunction with the new NetBooks coming on the market, access to quality children's literature can be from anywhere. (I've looked at this question before a couple times 1, 2.) This discussion made Joyce Valenza's assertion in the following session that "libraries can no longer be places to get things, but must become places to do things" very powerful indeed.
  2. The second question, I think, may be even more interesting. Does experiencing literature in highly interactive, multimedia formats actually lead to more reading? Or does it simply create a desire for more multimedia experiences? If the print book is vanilla ice cream, the electronic book that sings and dances is the whole hot fudge sundae with cherry and whipped cream. Who's going to want the plain vanilla anymore?

    I certainly don't think it is intentional, but these e-books seem another step down the path leading toward a post-literate society. (The postliterate are those who can read, but chose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming.) How ironic that products designed to develop reading may instead doom it.

Be warned: it's the unintended consequences that'll get ya every time.

Saturday
Nov152008

Fair Use Scenarios

Applying fair use reasoning is about reaching a level of comfort, not memorizing a specific set of rules. Hobbs, Jaszi, and Aufderheide, "10 Common Misunderstandings About Fair Use."

It's long been my contention that you can't "teach" values. The best someone can do is create situations that help people define or refine their own values derived from information, conversation and reflection.

To this end, I've always used "scenarios" anytime I work with others on questions of ethics (and online safety). Scenarios form the heart of my book Learning Right from Wrong in the Digital Age.

The quote above from the professors at the Temple University Media Education Lab strikes me as great reason that some new scenarios need to be written that deal with fair use and copyright. Can such scenarios help librarians, teachers and students reach "a level of comfort" using copyrighted materials within fair use guidelines?

Here's what one* might look like:

The PTO at Johnson Middle School is creating a "video yearbook" for students and families that document the school year. One parent wants to add a few news clips from network television and excerpts from popular songs and movies of the year along with the original video of school activities and events. "We want our children to remember not just what happened in school this year, but what happened in society," she opines. The PTO will sell the videos for just enough to cover the cost of production and fund a class field trip.

1. What is the copyrighted material? Who owns it?

2. Does the use of the work fall under fair use guidelines? Is the use transformational in nature? Can this be considered "educational" use?

3. What is your level of comfort in helping create such a product? Are there any changes or limits you might like to see that would make you more comfortable with this project?

OK, this is sort of the same old, same old. But here is what is exciting...

In visiting with Jim Ulsh, Director of Student Publishing at ProQuest at the SLJ Leadership Summit at breakfast this morning, we talked about putting these scenarios online and allow readers to vote on their "level of comfort" with particular uses of copyrighted materials. (OK, the idea was Jim's, but I am still taking credit.)

What do you think? Would this be a valuable resource? How might the idea be improved? Any particularly knotty situations on fair use that scenarios should be written?

OK, I'm going back now to paying attention to the panel discussion I'm attending.

* Links to additional scenarios created