Sunday, April 5, 2009

Copyright or my Right2Copy?

I remember searching for information as a 16 year old at our local library, looking through the microfiche and the index cards to find the books that would help me for my most special assignment... it was my first computer processed assignment on my favorite sport, mountain biking. Some of the books I needed were already borrowed, so next I was cycling to another public library to pick it up copies they had. Hours after I had started my initial stage of research I had three books, each full of prized information that I used to complete an assignment that I was proud ot, an assignment I have kept until this day as it was my first computer generated assignment, check it out as a google doc!

It is no wonder I wanted to recognise the authors of the books and no surprise I wasn't tempted to use their ideas as my own as I had put so much time and energy into finding the books and researching the sport. I was proud of this effort, and I wanted to show that I had become more knowledgeable because of my interaction with the information. Back then I didn't have access to the internet, it would be another two years till I came into contact with it upon entering University.

Fast Forward 15 years and the same assignment on Mountain Biking could be reproduced by any student anywhere around the world in less time, with less effort and all without leaving their seat. Researching these days consists of little more than typing the words 'mountain biking' into a Google search box, doing a quick filter for the best information from the ...

... search results and picking the the best pictures out of nearly 5 million pictures provided by a google image search, to enhance the project.

All this information available faster than I can type. With less effort involved at the research stage and with overwhelming numbers of sites of reference material, students must feel less attached to the material they find and more overwhelmed and 'numbed out' of the worth of what they find. It is therefore no surprise they see it as their right to copy this into their own projects; surely that is what the net is there for... to provide information?

Copyright is changing... Right2copy is the norm.

So do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws? Copyright evolved to protect creativity, it was never in place to stop the sharing of such creative thought and works. It appears that what underlies the concept of copyright is giving credit for work, and in the case where profit or full use of an idea is involved, it is about ensuring that an agreement with the creator of the work is achieved. The effects of globalization as propagated by the internet show some of the dangers of copyright issues. Information is readily available for anyone, anytime, anywhere. You can't even be guaranteed of privacy on the net by removing yourself from the internet. This was clearly shown in the case of Alison Chang vs. Virgin Mobile, or Allison Stokke's unwanted nightmare online attention (enough to make any father worry), both show cases where neither girl posted the pictures that made them famous online. It is the norm for students to download music, photos, movies, games, programmes and file share online, along with a wide range of practices that blatantly break copyright laws.

So what is the solution? Is there a solution?

Copyright is changing and is continually challenged by the global nature of the internet. As there is no governing body over the internet the jurisdiction falls in whatever country you lie, some countries allow file sharing others don't. America will follow through with legal action and will even do so in the few cases of educators breaking copyright. Even where countries have firm copyright laws, a number of terms within these laws which have relevance for educators are vague and relative: 'fair use' and 'transforming'... isn't this dependent to the setting, student age, and goals of a learning project?

So what is the answer?

The biggest breakthrough in copyright over the past 8 years has been the evolution of creative commons. These give a more explicit intent of copyright and appears to help us in the sharing process of material online. Creative commons allow us to licence our own work and agree to share under certain conditions. It allows people to become more aware of their rights and take personal responsibility for their own copyrighted works. It also gives users of online material greater understanding of the intent of the creator. In essence it clears up the murky waters of 'fair use'. Creative commons don't by any means keep us safe (as shown in the Alison Chang case above), and this is something we need to be aware of. The potential for building a greater pool of knowledge and information by using open creative commons is limitless.

As educators our role is to ensure students understand the ethical side to fair use, and are able to judge what is transformative and what isn't. We need to promote the use of creative commons images, music, video and other works so that students feel safe about what they are using. We must encourage respecting authors work in the process of referencing material, and encourage students to be creative and build upon the work of others. By promoting a sharing aspect for our students and their work, we encourage them to contribute to a greater pool of knowledge than their own. Finally we must model this.

So does our AUP take this issue into account? No, Nothing there... hmmmm

Reflecting on my last two blogs, perhaps it it is when we take personal responsibility to maintain our privacy online, by being reflective about our digital footprint that we can also balance how we share our copyrighted works to others.