Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Copyright for Educators

Earlier this month a faculty member asked me to present to her class on technology for educators on copyright and fair use. Evidently, word got around campus that I was the person to see on such matters. It was a last minute request, but much of the time I spend in classrooms is teaching library instruction and information literacy "one shot" sessions, and this looked like a nice change of pace, beyond the importance of these issues.

I started with Kanye West's "Gold Digger," which I thought, correctly, would immediately command the students' attention. The song samples Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," which, in turn, borrows heavily from spiritual songs called "I Got a Savior" and "Jesus Is All the World to Me." The purpose of this is to introduce complex issues of creation and ownership from the start. In light of all these samples, who owns "Gold Digger?" Who created it? I got the idea for this from chapter six of James Boyle's "The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind."

I then discuss the copyright clause of the Constitution of the United States of America, emphasizing the "limited Times" to be granted to copyright holders.
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. 
- Article I, Section 8, Clause 8
The reason for the restrictions on copyrights are so that not only can authors, inventors, and other creators benefit from their work, but also society, writ large, after a given period of time. Others will have an opportunity to build off of the initial creations.

However, in practice, this limited amount of time is becoming less so, as copyrights are extended long beyond the historic norm. All of the following works would have entered the public domain, that is, the rights of ownership would have expired, on January 1st, 2013 under the pre-1976 copyright regime. However, now they will enter the public domain in 2052. One can only assume that in 2051, these rights will be further extended.
Educators can use copyrighted works, with some limitations, under the doctrine of fair use, enumerated by 17 USC § 107:
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. 
More here.
I expand on the classroom, being not just a physical space, but also a digital, virtual one. Course management software, like Moodle or Blackboard, are classrooms. Fair use is in effect there, too. Just ask Georgia State University and the University of California at Los Angeles. In sum, an intranet is a classroom.

To help determine what can be used fairly, I point students towards the excellent resources at the University of Minnesota. There, copyright librarian (!) Nancy Sims has created and curated an impressive selection of tools for librarians, educators, and copyright holders. Like Ms. Sims, I take a liberal view of what can be used for educational purposes, and emphasize this to students.

Both Creative Commons and the open access movement provide important counters to copyright regimes, in that copyright holders themselves can help liberate their works. I show students both the Directory of Open Access Journals and the Directory of Open Access Books, as well as discuss Creative Commons licensing.

I conclude with letting students, future teachers in particular, that they should not only know their rights, but flex them, which means distributing, time-shifting, and remixing in the classroom, be it a physical or virtual location. And as always, I end with a mic drop.


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