03 June, 2010

Playing by the rules

I had a chat with someone about whether they should join one of the teacher librarian email lists. Would it lead to them developing a greater disrespect for their colleagues, was the gist of the question. My answer was basically yes, which is interesting because I am glad to be part of the list. Yet, most of the posts are irrelevant things which clog my inbox and there are plenty of questions which I think any librarian worth more than $2.50 an hour should already know. But then I need to remind myself, a lot of these people are working in isolation from the librarian arm of their profession. They don't get support to attend conferences, they don't have the time or inclination to read all of the odd stuff which I read online. Their stupid departments won't let them look at youtube or even boing boing at work, they probably don't read EFF or think much about DRM or Creative Commons...

So, I forgive these people for asking stupid questions. The ones that drive me mad are the ones who don't realise they don't know anything, who will leap up with an opinion despite actually having less sense than the poor person asking the question (who at least knows they are ignorant on the topic).

An example? Why, yes I do have an example...
Downloading You Tube clips is a bit like kids in the candy store. You can't always have what you want - no matter how much money you have or how much you want it. Describing how to circumvent the 'you cannot have this to store and keep' rules - to me - is a bit like telling kids it's OK to steal from the candy store if they don't have enough money! The bottom line is - if you cannot live without a particular clip, contact the person who posted it and ask for their permission. If permission is not given - for whatever reason - too bad, so sad. The world will not end. We can't always have what we want. One of the difficulties with sites like You Tube - while they have fantastic and often hilarious clips that would engage students, they are quite often a mix of original and 'copied' material. This may mean that the person who posted the clip doesn't have the right to give you the right. If you are seriously trying to do the right thing in regard to copyright, you need to be cautious about this aspect in particular.
Did I roll my eyes and get back to cataloguing? No, I can't do that. I needed to surgically excise the stupid before it infected others. The trouble is, the sharpest tool in my surgical kit is the rubber mallet of sarcastic insults.

I'm going to argue with a few points you have made,

Firstly, while I applaud the idea that schools should play by the rules, it is important to remember that we play by different rules. This is not a bad thing, in education we are looking after the interests of our students first and foremost. And the education of our students is an important issue for the nation as a whole. Australia needs an educated populace, so why should we be bound by the same rules as the great unwashed sitting at home watching you-tube for a laugh? We pay for screen rights, we have copyright exemptions (some of which have been hard fought to get and some of which we may lose in the future if society continues to act like the special interest group of publishers, record companies and film studios has some sort of monopoly on deciding what is in our best interest).

To continue your you-tube/candy store analogy. We are not random candy store customers, we are market researchers bringing in new mouths/brains for a taste testing session. If the candy store owner demands that the kids who come in with us pay for the candy we have asked them to taste then it is a candy store run by a moron of the highest order.

To drag the analogy even further. The person behind the counter in the candy store is not always the owner. Just as the person who posted the clip is not always the copyright holder. So asking them may be completely pointless. There is a lot of content on youtube which it is perfectly legal for us to use without having to ask permission, so why add unnecessary steps to your process? I know you recognised the person who posted the clip doesn't always hold the copyright, but the example you gave of "a mix of original and 'copied' material" fails to take into account that it is often perfectly legal to use extracts of another's work. It is also legal to use someone else's work for parody or criticism. There are a whole manner of legal ways to use someone else's intellectual property. Sure, you should be making sure you give proper attribution but that is another issue.

Likewise, when it comes to adding content to an intranet or a moodle style site. Yes, asking for permission works, but why go to all that trouble if you can legally do it under the current copyright framework? I know that when I am asked about things like this it is more often something which is needed in the next five minutes (or on a good day, tomorrow). Your chances of getting a reply in that timeframe are slim at best but remember, we have all sorts of educational exemptions we can use.

Using the exemptions and licences we have as educational institutions is not robbing the candy store. No, wait, I am going to use an exclamation mark! Perhaps even two!!

Not only that, asking permission to use something you are already entitled to use just creates work for the poor fool who created the work you are using (as well as for you). I know a couple of very frustrated people who write very rude and sarcastic emails when people ask if they can use the Creative Commons licensed photos they have on flickr. Sure it isn't the fault of the masses that they are unaware of the different types of licence which can be used. But we are not the masses, we are specialists and this is our field. If we don't do this properly ourselves, how can we stand up before a government enquiry and tell them that not only are we worth having, but they need more of us and we could do with a pay rise thanks for asking?

The kids who come to my school deserve every opportunity I can give them. If there is an exemption I can use which will save me a few dollars then I will use it because every saving I make means they have more resources available to them. If there is a technology I can use which will save the time of the teachers in this school, then I will exploit it because any time I can save them is time they can use for the school, for the students or for themselves (and most of them deserve it).

(now to continue the candy store analogy to the nth degree, if I go to the candy store and buy a bag of ginger creams the candy store owner does not tell me that I have to eat them all myself. He doesn't get to tell me where I can eat them, if I give the bag to a friend he doesn't care, if I haven't eaten them in a certain time frame he doesn't get to reclaim them. Plus, if I come in and take a photo of the ginger creams he can't charge me with shoplifting. nor can he charge me with any crime if I go home and make my own ginger creams. In fact if I go into his store and he is rude to me, so I go buy my ginger creams at another shop there is still nothing he can do about it.)

Some of you may enjoy this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeTybKL1pM4 (sorry it is youtube, my school lets me go there because someone at my school had common sense at some point, I don't know who they were, but I thank them). To get on my soapbox a bit more here, there is a broken business model out there and there are plenty of people within the publishing, film and recording industries who recognise it but it is likely that the current copyright regimen will need to collapse completely before we get any real reform. The question of how we in schools deal with that in the meanwhile is fraught (at best). To compare copying to theft is a flawed analogy. But to compare copying in an educational setting to theft is not just flawed it is wilfully denying access to information and potentially (given we are often the copyright specialists in our schools) confusing the hell out of a whole host of teachers and students.


Penny said...

Having just had a heated discussion over Youtube, copyright and what "embed" means I find your post resonates loudly with me. *sigh*

These are the people teaching our children right? It is difficult to see how our kids will understand fair use or even good choices when it isn't modeled in their places of learning.

Mal Booth said...

Hey, great post I agree entirely.
If copying is theft, someone should arrest the internets.

NomesD said...

I read this post a few days ago and the phrase "Too bad so sad" has been going around in my head for days. I can't believe a professional wrote that about a user. I don't envy you your job, but I salute you.