5 min read

Copyright in the classroom

This clip on vimeo made me wonder quite a bit about the demands of using digital content in the classroom, and how groups like the MPAA and NZFACT seek to be taken seriously when they propose this method as an acceptable, fair use of digital content.

MPAA shows how to videorecord a TV set.

I posted it to publicaddress and was asked to explain what I thought would be a use for copy protected content. After a bit of thinking, I wrote this.

as a teacher how do you use and how do you want to use copy protected material from dvd for teaching. we're short on real world examples and would love to hear your requirements.

First up - the amount of paper based analog school content that is photocopied and breaks copyright is far greater than any digital content being abused.

I regularly use youtube clips, on Friday used a clip of sepak takraw, as a bit of an intro to Thai language lesson - it was from StarTV I think, so was probably breaking copyright. I try to use teachertube more regularly, as most of its content is created by teachers and students for an education market. If I make use of flickr images in presentations, I search for Creative Commons licensed content.

But I'm conscious of breaking copyright...

I play my iPod in class - with music from my collection - that's probably breaking copyright - playback in a public space.

I have read my students "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Under the Mountain" - and then showed the movie and TV series on DVD in class to compare and contrast with the books. Probably breaking copyright again.

I have taught a series of lessons on basics of film making - and used some clips from "The Incredibles" extras DVD, which highlighted the process from storyboarding, to modelling, to final shot. In some lessons looking at the oceans, and issues of pollution, I've shown clips from the BBC's "Blue Planet" DVD series.

Again - breaking copyright most likely.

Should I now be following the MPAA's instruction and capturing this content with a DV camera, exporting into iMovie, editing into clips, laying off to VHS or playing off the laptop, to playback in class?

I'm confused by this MPAA clip - they want me to degrade their intellectual property, so as to share with a class. What are they seeking to protect - the content? or the delivery mechanism?

I should state that I disagree with those teachers who will just slap a movie into the player at the end of a term - it reduces the job to babysitting, and despite having days like that myself - it's not right. If we, as teachers are to make use of digital content in the classroom, we need to be planning and integrating its use effectively.

At my school we have quite a few resources on VHS, even some film reels lying around. I'd guess that many schools around the country have the same. Should we purchase all of that intellectual property again, in the DVD format? Or should we be able to encode it to a digital format ourselves - with or without the MPAA's approved "point cam at screen" approach.

We're starting to make use of digital audio a lot more - podcasts of audiobooks, Rainbow readers and such.

I'm actually more frustrated at the standard and level of the conversation about copyright issues. I'm no expert on the matter, but NZFACT's education section on their website is IMO a threatening, misguided, deliberately ugly view of the copyright debate.


The page is riddled with silly commentary, including the statements like this:

"Schools and universities today harbor some of the swiftest computer networks in New Zealand, a situation which unfortunately has led some people to download and illegally distribute films and TV programs. "

Yes - it's the school's high-speed networks that are to blame.

I don't see NZFACT attacking Telecom or TelstraClear for providing the network services.

Then there's this gem:

"If you use peer-to-peer file-sharing services, you risk breaking the law, downloading a serious computer virus, sharing your personal data, which can lead to identity theft, and getting exposed to pornographic materials"

Yes - that's right - P2P will lead to identity theft, a very, very serious computer virus, and even boobies. I'm surprised they don't include the line "and blow up your computer!"

The pdf that they sent out to teachers and schools is quite an offensive design, loaded images that show "evil" apparently lurking behind every screen - it's the same graffiti style font that the "Don't download!!!!" video clips before every movie screening has.

As I read that, and look at the MPAA's aforementioned link, it strikes me that protecting/preventing delivery channels (revenue streams) from being used by others apart from themselves is NZFACT's main purpose - not protecting content or ideas.

A simpler way of discussing what's copyright/copywrong is as Gever Tulley suggests in his TED speech from 2007 - buying a song off iTunes, burn it to CD, then rip the CD to an mp3 - and play it back on the computer. You're breaking a law - which might frighten or give some students a buzz - but it's a much better place to start the discussion - then NZFACT's stance of ALL P2P is BAD, mmkkaayy....

Sadly, in my view, some students do now subscribe to the view that all downloading is stealing - they've seen the "Don't Download!" ads and believe it. I asked them if copying TV shows to VHS is stealing - they said "No" - so I asked what was the difference between me torrenting a TV episode from the internet. They couldn't tell me.

(Actually I had to change the question and ask if copying to a hard-drive/DVD player was stealing.)

They've never heard of Creative Commons, or fair use. I'd hazard a guess that most teachers haven't either.

I had one student reading the text version of Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" on the class computer - he'd brought the file in from home, and other students were accosting him and telling him that was illegal. Having read the book myself and knowing that Doctorow has released the entire text in a variety of formats, it was easy to sort the situation, but it's scary when students see all online formats as wrong - because of what they've been told. Introducing Google Books to them was quite an eye-opener - they couldn't understand how so much content could be available to view.

This is not the brave new world - this is where we are now - and rather than have the reactionary example of Sione's Wedding being stolen (physically) and Tem Morrison constantly talking down to the education sector, it'd be good to be discussing the reality.

But I won't hold my breath - this stuff isn't covered in the curriculum - and it takes some serious thinking around what is a complex issue. You can't assess it, so it won't be part of the new national standards.

I hope that answers your query Rob and robbery - I don't pretend to understand all of the legal issues. I do want to use digital content in my classroom lessons, and I want to use all content fairly.

Teachers are constantly using and reusing each others ideas - knowledge in our eyes is not a commodity - it's what we do on a daily basis - we create and share content. We're paid to do just that - to meet our students in the world they're in and help them make connections with that knowledge. We don't charge for the sharing or the knowledge.

That's not to say we don't want to pay for knowledge - but it would be sad if it was easier to not use available knowledge, because of prohibitive legislation, or if the methods of using knowledge was insanely difficult.

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Continue by Tim Kong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.