Antiquated copyright?

In reading different articles and blog posts surrounding copyright laws, I’ve noticed a couple of reoccurring themes. Primarily “I am not a lawyer” appears often when well known bloggers are offering up opinions/advice about copyright. Additionally, answers about copyright are ambiguous and vague…it seems that there are no fast and hard answers when it comes to this issue. Often people trying to ‘do the right thing’ are frustrated and left without a clear answer of what that ‘right thing’ is when it comes to using copyrighted material.

Doug Johnson wrote about this in his post Copyright Counseling. I love this title…I think it fits with the idea (as in counseling) that having a black and white answer to problems/questions isn’t how it works! His idea of taking in all the information and then making a judgment “based on your own interpretation of fair use” works for me.

As a global society, do we need to rethink copyright laws? Absolutely. An article about a high school athlete who was inadvertently catapulted into the limelight because of a routine photo taken at a track meet is a perfect illustration. How can we control copyright in a world that is hyper connected and linked? This girl legally has no avenue to put an end to the unwanted attention she’s received. Even if she did, it is unrealistic to think that she could even begin to find and retrieve all of the photos that have been posted and copied over and over again. How do we deal with these issues? My heart goes out to this girl and her family; they’ve had their lives turned upside down through no fault of their own. But how do we protect ourselves and our loved ones?

Protecting ourselves and determining ownership is one aspect of copyright. The other side of copyright is acknowledging the creators of material and ‘compensating’ people for their work. Shouldn’t artists be credited with their work and be able to receive compensation for what they have created? Of course they should…but maybe this will look a bit different in this digitally connected world we live in. Attempting to control the illegal downloads of songs and videos, for example, hasn’t seemed to work. The recent court case against Pirate Bay is a good example-last time I checked (this morning) the Pirate Bay website was still up and running!

I don’t have any answers, but I definitely think that our antiquated ideas of copyright need updating! Creative Commons seems to be a progressive way of looking at copyright…

Murky Waters

I was having a conversation yesterday with some of my sixth grade students and the topic of copyright came up. Not sure how much their teachers and parents had been talking to them about copyright, I started doing some digging about their understanding of what it meant.

Quickly I realized they knew, more or less, what copyright was. It also rapidly became apparent that the way they applied that knowledge varied dramatically. We were specifically discussing music when one student made the comment, “Well, in American they really don’t care about what songs you use, America doesn’t really care that much about it.” Wow…that certainly is a misconception that needs straightening out!

Another student tried to explain it to the group (she’d obviously been having serious discussions with someone about this) and she used the words “Yeah, but you’re stealing their passion!” She went on to explain that sites like LimeWire are illegal but more importantly they are wrong-because it allows people to steal a person’s passion.

The first student still wasn’t convinced, and was struggling to understand how you are ‘stealing someone’s passion.’ We tried to explain it as something that would hit closer to home. Using the analogy of him creating a film (he loves video making) that he had spent months and countless hours on making-then having another 6th grade student from a different school download his video, using his ‘passion’ for his or her own gain or credit. All without acknowledging (whether monetarily or otherwise) the actual creator of the stunning film. He was quiet for a minute, gave a quick nod to the group and said, “You have a point there.”

After we had this discussion, I found myself thinking about this for quite some time. I think copyright is an area we all struggle with understanding. I wrote an earlier blog post that touched on this as well. I found myself in murky waters when it came to explaining to my students what we could and couldn’t use on our new student site we’re creating (my new final project). So how do I help kids understand that there is potential for them to cause trouble if they use the music performance video if the group didn’t have permission to perform the music in the first place…and is that even an issue? And how do we know if the videos we’re using are following copyright laws, how can we tell? Since there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule, how do we help kids make sound decisions?

As we’re trying to wrap our heads around all of this and make sense of it, I also find myself really feeling my kids’ pain and frustration with this issue. This is the generation of collaborators, of believers in Google Docs, Wikis, and Open Source. They don’t understand that just because it’s there on the Internet and I can click on it, download it, put it in my presentation-it doesn’t make it okay to do so.

In light of all of this confusion and murkiness, I found the sliver of light shining through. When I asked my students if they knew what Creative Commons was, all of them were aware of it and what it meant. I introduced them to and they were excited (though one of the students asked if they had songs like ones Michael Jackson sings…had to burst that bubble a little bit-they weren’t going to find the top downloads from iTunes BUT they would find good music that they could use without breaking laws).

As I said in my earlier ramblings, I think we are going to have to rethink what copyright means in this day and age. We’re going to have to find a way to clear these murky waters for us and for our kids.

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