Last Saturday I started writing a "a rational, ethical and legally-defensible way" of how educators should change their approach to both using and teaching about intellectual property, especially copyrighted work. I got side-tracked with some paradoxes. I continue in this post with final of 4 posts about how we might go about doing this...
4. Teach copyright from the point of view of the producer, as well as the consumer:
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you. Stealers Wheel lyric
Few of us are comfortable at either extreme of copyright enforcement – playing the copyright Nazi or completely ignoring situations of questionable copyrighted materials use. Complicating the issue is that each of us is likely to arrive at his/her own personal level of fair use comfort, judgment of seriousness of misuse, and perspective of the morality of intellectual property use both personally and professionally.
And that's OK. My long-standing philosophy is that education is all about teaching people to think rather than to believe. We also need to help individual students arrive at personal comfort levels when using protective creative works as well.
I would advance some practical ideas about the role of educators, especially library media specialists, in teaching and enforcing copyright compliance and other issues of intellectual property use:
- Enforcement of all laws and policies, including copyright, falls on administrators, not teachers or librarians. Quite honestly, if a building principal chooses not to learn about copyright, about how materials are being used in his building, or not to enforce district policies, it is not a teacher or LMS’s job to make him. Administrators are the ones getting paid the big bucks. Let them earn'm.
- I will rat out my fellow teachers only under a very narrow set of circumstances. I suppose there might be a copyright infringement so egregious that I would bring it to my boss’s attention. It would need to be something that has a real chance of generating a lawsuit, though. I would put it writing, send it only once, and keep a CYA copy. I would be prepared to show a real example of another district suffering as a result of similar action. (Carol Simpson keeps a database of such things.
- I need not commit any acts I deem illegal. If a teacher asks me to make a copy of something and I feel it does not fit under fair use guidelines, I will politely say no and explain why. And then teach him/her how to do it.
- In inservices and communications, I will teach what can, not what can’t be done with IP. I will stress “fair use,” give open source options to software, and alert my staff to royalty free and public domain sources. Let’s change our identity from enforcer to enabler! If someone asks me specifically whether a use is legal or illegal, I will respond: “It depends on your personal philosophy. If you can justify that the use meets fair use guidelines, is transformational, and sets a good example for your students, go for it! If you can't, don't"
- Any signs about fair use will be accompanied by a caveat. (such as the popular ones produced by Hall David):
In an LM_Net post, library media specialist Vicki Reutter wrote:
Young people eat up this “us against them” mentality and hardly realize it is only hurting their own. Now, I'm mostly thinking of budding artists and musicians, not the goofy Spielburg wanna -be's on You Tube. The economics are changing for selling music, no question. And it's not a bad thing. Who needs a big record contract? But, there is no discussion of ethics of “taking without paying” or “taking, changing and profiting.”
We can certainly get a student to bubble in the “right” answer on a test about copyright, we can refuse to accept student work that may include copyrighted media, and can say, “think hard about your actions, young man.” We should certainly deal with plagiarism. But I doubt any of those actions will stop the illegal downloading of materials once the child is out of sight.
Studies do suggest that teens are not a-moral, but uniformed. From a KRC study conducted for Microsoft:
Awareness of the law impacts teen attitudes towards illegal downloading. The more teenagers know about laws against illegal downloading, the more they will come to think it should be a punishable offense. Likewise, teenagers unaware of the rules are more tolerant of illegal activities. Among teenagers who said they were familiar with the laws, more than eight in ten (82%) said illegal downloaders should be punished. In contrast, slightly more than half (57%) of those unfamiliar with the laws said violators should be punished.
Yes, we have an role in teaching laws related to the use of intellectual property. But it doesn’t stop there.
Only when students begin think about copyright and other intellectual property guidelines from the point of view of the producer as well as the consumer, can they form mature attitudes and act in responsible ways when questions about these issues arise. And as an increasing number of students become “content creators” themselves, this should be an easier concept to help them grasp:
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that 64% of online teens ages 12-17 have participated in one or more among a wide range of content-creating activities on the internet, up from 57% of online teens in a similar survey at the end of 2004. (Teen Content Creators, 2007)
Among the most serious misperceptions about copyright holders is that only big, faceless companies are impacted by theft. A popular view that it acceptable to steal from big companies but not from the small fry. Too often students and adults forget that many large companies are made up of small stockholders and employees just trying to make a buck too. Publishing companies represent the interests of individual artists, writers and musicians. Whose ranks they themselves may one day join.
Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind lists empathy as one of the most important “conceptual age” skills needed by tomorrow’s workers. Developing empathy toward content creators who hope to profit by their work helps all of us place copyright into context and perspective.
This is why we need to allow use the use of copyrighted material in student work, but expect students to be able to articulate why they believe it constitutes legal use.
Thanks for your patience and comments over this past week as I tried to “think outloud,” exploring new ways to approach how we teach and enforce copyright in schools. This is a controversial, values-laden topic and still one I believe is full of contradictions, paradoxes and valid, if contradictory, view points. And my own thinking is on-going and has been shaped by the comments left by Blue Skunk readers. Thank you.
I guess what I am saying is that if you don’t like what you’ve read here, check back tomorrow. I may have changed my mind!