Copyrights (& wrongs)


It’s been a busy two months since my last post… besides ALA and some much-enjoyed vacation time, everything seems to have piled up! Off to the right you will see myself and Cory Doctorow, happy to meet briefly at a Tor event in Anaheim. I told him how rad we all found his new YA novel, Little Brother, and he was glad to hear it.

When I got home, I got my new issue of Knowledge Quest in the mail and read with interest the article called “Copyright and Portfolios” by Rebecca Butler. I found the ethical questions of the subject fascinating. It concerns electronic portfolios of graduating seniors where the students have used copyrighted materials such as music and film clips: fair use or infringement? Butler concurs that yes, it’s fair use as long as the students were using said clips for public school curriculum and used them to “realize their specific learning objectives.” She cites some sources (this was the only online one, sorry) and goes on to say that such “class-generated portfolios” can be used to demonstrate expertise in applications for jobs or higher ed. Butler adds that you should inform students that the portfolios should not be used for profit (“[don’t] sell any of the pieces […] or use them in a paid presentation.”)

I was worried after reading this, because a quick scan of the article seems reassuring… if your students have “added entire popular songs to their projects, as well as large clips from movie CDs, DVDs, and videos” then maybe everything is just a-ok and kosher. It takes a close reading of this brief article and a little deep thought to conclude that A) you might need to do more research into fair use before you let students create portfolios with such egregious “sampling” (the last time I checked using a work in its entirety is not sampling) and B) you’ll need to figure out how to break it to your students that a more-than-passing understanding of copyright may be the most important “technological skill” thy could have in the 21st century.

While I think it’s imperative that students (and citizens) have the right to fair use of copyrighted intellectual work (especially in the cases of criticism and parody), I believe that it may be encouraging intellectual laziness to reach for the latest Coldplay song and pop it in as the musical backdrop to a PowerPoint report. Sure, it’s popular culture; sure, it’s handy; sure, it’s easier in the short run than searching for music where the creators have given explicit permission for its use. I maintain that in the long run, using apparatuses such as Creative Commons can serve to build students’ appreciation and understanding of copyright so that they may gradually build up to the use of commercially copyrighted works with full knowledge of the risks and benefits. By making the due consideration of copyright and fair use integral to the construction of such electronic portfolios, we can equip students with skills that they can put to good use in the workplace and/or academia.

Cited:

Rebecca P. Butler. (2008). Copyright and Portfolios. Knowledge Quest, 36(5), 74.

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