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EdTech Update





Changing how we teach copyright Pt 1

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 today with the first of 3 or 4 ideas about how we might go about doing this...

copyright.gif1. Change the focus of copyright instruction from what is forbidden to what is permitted.

The 2007 document “The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy” published by American University’s Center for Social Media coins a new term: Hyper-comply. It means that some educators “over-comply with copyright law, and even forego using legitimate teaching tools and techniques for fear of violating copyright."

As information professionals, we have as great an obligation to see that staff and students get as complete access and use from copyrighted materials as possible, as we do in helping make sure they respect copyright laws.  Period.

Our instructional efforts need to include:

  • Teaching users that the use of copyrighted material in research and projects, if properly cited and if it supplements, rather than supplants the researcher’s product, is perfectly legal.  Our district’s Guide to Cheating and Plagiarism clearly describes when information needs to be cited and when it does not, how to cite a source and how to avoid inadvertent plagiarism.
  • Teaching the concepts and tests of Fair Use.  Both staff and students should be able to name and explain the factors surrounding fair use.
…the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
      • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
      • the nature of the copyrighted work;
      • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
      • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107)
  • Teach that a copyrighted work’s use is considered Fair Use if it is of a “transformative” nature.  In “Recut, Reframe, Recycle,” the authors define these uses of copyrighted works in online videos as “transformative” and meeting Fair Use Guideline:
    • Parody and satire
    • Negative or critical commentary
    • Positive commentary
    • Quoting to trigger discussion
    • Illustration or example
    • Incidental use
    • Personal reportage or diaries
    • Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials
    • Pastiche or collage

    Other media besides video can be "transformative" as well.

  • Inform teachers of all special rights given to them as educators. Teachers can show personal copies of copyrighted videos in class; off-air broadcasts can be re-shown to classes; school software loaded on home computers, and photocopies of copyrighted news and magazine article can be given to students. (Some restrictions apply, but these are conditionally legal.)
  • Teach the Consortium of College and University Media Centers's Fair Use Guidelines For Educational Multimedia. These guidelines (as described by Linda Star on Education World) state that educators who create educational multimedia projects containing original and copyrighted materials may use those projects for
    • face-to-face student instruction.
    • directed student self-study.
    • real-time remote instruction, review, or directed self-study for students enrolled in curriculum-based courses, provided there are no technological limitations on access to the multimedia project and that the technology prevents copying of the copyrighted material.
    • teaching courses for a period of up to two years after the first instructional use. After two years, educators must obtain permission for each copyrighted portion in the project.
    • presentation at peer workshops and conferences.
    • such personal uses as tenure review or job interviews.
        The guidelines also allow students who create educational multimedia projects containing copyrighted materials to use their projects for
      • educational uses in the course for which they were created.
      • portfolios as examples of their academic work.
      • such personal uses as job and graduate school interviews.

Educators need to know the “outer limits,” not just the “safe harbors” of the use of copyrighted materials – and allow their students to explore those outer limits as well.

Help me build a repository of "permitted uses"of copyright material in your comments. I am sure I have overlooked some guidelines that help, rather than hinder, educators and students.

Let's see that teachers and students are as aware of their legal rights as they are of their limits. 


Have you voted for Gordon yet?

The ISTE Board Election will close this Friday, April 11, at 5 P.M. Pacific.

My thanks to those of you who’ve already cast your ballots. And if you haven’t voted yet, I urge you to do so NOW. Every ballot counts as we work together to improve opportunities and outcomes for all students. Learn more about this year’s inspiring ISTE Board candidates at Then vote!

Login is required to vote and to view each candidate’s answers to three critical questions. Can't remember your login or password? Visit ISTE's support page for assistance. If you need further help, you may speak with an ISTE Customer Service Representative at 1.800.336.5191 (Int’l 1.541.302.3777).

Help shape the future of your professional organization—and the field of Ed Tech. Cast your ballot today!

P.S.: Please remember that you'll need to login as a member to view the slate of candidates, read their statements, and vote. Voting is a privilege—and a responsibility!—of membership.

Yeah, yeah, the above is a form letter. But it is heart-felt form letter from me just to you alone, the Blue Skunk Reader. If I had mail merge, I'd have used it. My choice of candidates can be found here.


Paradox land

fbi.jpg     fairyuse.jpg

Second image from Eric Faden’s “A Fairy(y) Use Tale” at  Media Education Foundation <>

I had started today's post meaning to suggest in a rational, ethical and legally-defensible way how educators should change their approach to both the use of and teaching about intellectual property. Instead, I've gotten caught up thinking about all the paradoxes and contradictions that the last couple of posts have forced me to consider. And regular readers all know how thinking makes my head hurt. Ouch!

Few subjects about which I blog tend to draw more praise, criticism and questions than the topics of intellectual property, copyright, and digital rights management. When a single post draws criticism from both Peter Rock who insists there is no such thing as "intellectual property" and Barbara Braxton who asks "even if the rules/laws don't make sense, or we don't agree with them, does that mean we still have the right to break them when it suits us?", I must be doing something right! Or terribly, terribly wrong.

These are areas where I feel less and less certainty that as a professional I have a firm understanding - or a defensible  philosophy. Increasingly, I feel beset by paradoxes of intellectual property:

  • While intellectual property, especially in digital formats, becomes an increasingly important "wealth generator" throughout the world, the laws surrounding it are becoming less understandable, more complex, and less relevant, especially to this generation of re-mixers and content-sharers.
  • While today’s students want to use others' digital works, often without regard to the legal protections they may carry, many of these students’ own creative efforts will be the source of their incomes and they will need a means of protecting their own work and want others to respect intellectual property laws.
  • While protection of individual property rights is given legal precedence, many argue there is a moral precedent and there may be economic value to placing all intellectual works into the public domain as soon as possible.
  • Prohibitions are ubiquitous on media, but the warnings disregard fair use and may not be legal. Case law related to the use of digital media is scarce. Technology changes faster than the legal system can keep up.
  • While librarians are considered the copyright experts in their buildings, they too often become the copyright “cops” instead. The experts on whom practicing librarians reply give "safe" advice that tends to honor the rights of intellectual property owners, not consumers.
  • Thoughtful teachers and librarians be intellectual property use role models by being:
    • followers of the letter of the law who err on the side of the information producer
    • or questioners of the legality and ethical value of current law and practices who err of the side of the information consumer
  • While intellectual property shares many qualities of physical property, it also has unique properties that many of us still struggle to understand. A physical apple and copyright protected song from Apple both may sell for $.99. Your assignment: Compare and contrast the "unauthorized acquisition"  in financial, moral, and practical terms.

The teaching of copyright and other intellectual property issues is overdue for an overhaul in our schools. The mindset that “if we don’t know for sure, don’t do it” does not fit the needs of either students or their teachers. Changes I am thinking about recommending include:

  1. Changing the focus of copyright instruction from what is forbidden to what is permitted. (Sneak preview, see Pamela Burke's post here and read “The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy.”
  2. When there is doubt, err on the side of the user. (Are we being "hyper-compliant"?)
  3. Ask the higher ethical questions when the law seems to make little sense. (Look where it got Socrates. Well, yeah, there was that hemlock bit...)
  4. Teach copyright from the point of view of the producer, as well as the consumer. (Does having others using your work without authorization or remuneration change your perception of intellectual property issues?)

Confused at a higher level? Then my work here is done.