Common Copyright Assignment Mistakes

The instructors of INF 312 find some common problems in student submissions to one of our assignments. Here’s some advice to students. I expect that it may be useful to others.

  • Just because it’s educational does not mean that it’s automatically a fair use. I mention this fact in the copyright module, bolded. The educational purpose of your assignment is part of a fair use argument, but it can’t be the sum of a fair use argument.
  • The public domain is awesome. The public domain can also be a little bit tricky. Consider classical music- Vivaldi’s Allegro is in the public domain. The London Philharmonic 2002 recording of Vivaldi’s Allegro is not in the public domain. A new expression of an underlying work in the public domain might have its own copyright associated with it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use the work, but you have to have a different justification for doing so, or you have to use the original work that is actually in the public domain.
  • Works created by the federal government are in the public domain- but not every work on a government website was created by the government, including portraits. Images might have copyright associated with them even if you find them on an official federal government site. Unless it specifically says otherwise, don’t assume that you’re free to use it. Again, you can make a fair use argument- and chances are, a pretty strong one- with such works, but you actually have to make that type of argument.
  • Not every Creative Commons license is identical. Some of them specifically require you to use “Share-Alike” when you license your derivative work. Some of them specifically mention that they don’t allow derivative works. You need to pay attention to the specific terms of the license when licensing your own content.
  • Just because you have a picture of yourself does not mean that you have copyright in the picture. You may have some rights of publicity in the picture, but that doesn’t mean that you can do anything you want with it. If you took the picture yourself, then you have copyright in it. If you didn’t, then someone else does. Saying that “it’s a picture of me” or that it’s a picture of you that you have at your house/on your computer is not a copyright argument.

That’s a bit on the restrictive side of a copyright argument. We also see problems in the other direction. I’ll talk about those in a later post.

Fair Use in Scholarship

I’ve been involved in a few disturbing conversations the last couple of days.

Fair Use has a vital role in copyright law- it allows the use of copyrighted material without permission for what are essentially societal benefits. Criticism, scholarship, teaching and research are specifically mentioned in the text of the law as examples of the kinds of work that should be fair. Fair use is necessary for scholars.

I’m interested in a wide variety of subjects that don’t directly involve copyright- much like the field if Information, looking at copyright often involves looking at the areas that copyright touches, and much like the field of Information, those areas can be just about anything. So, for example, I look at how copyright affects the practices of libraries and archives, or K-12 education, or other subjects.

One of the things that got me interested in copyright in the first place were the practices of fans, because I am a fan and copyright seemed to bring up interesting and problematic questions for fan activities. In the anime fan world, for example, the practice of fansubbing- that is, groups of fan subtitling and distributing anime that hasn’t been released in the U.S.- used to be, and still is, relatively common. Anime club showings, where people get together and show anime, are also common. I have doubts that the anime industry would exist if these practices hadn’t occurred, but they certainly bring up copyright challenges. Anime itself has become a serious subject of study, and I’m on a few related mailing lists.

I recently gave a presentation about copyright to a group of archivists and educators from different universities in the U.S. One of the topics that came up was working with attorneys. At UT, we’re very fortunate to have strong copyright scholarship advocates like Georgia Harper. I know some other universities also have advocates in that area- Kevin Smith at Duke, for example. But one thing that really struck me from that meeting was that not all groups in other universities have that kind of support. A couple of people described how risk-averse their counsel is when it comes to copyright issues. That’s a problem. There’s too much going on in the world for fear to win those copyright arguments in education.

A related discussion popped up on one of the scholarly anime mailing lists I mentioned. One student working on a dissertation was told that he was required to get permission for every thumbnail or image he had intended to include in his work- well more than a hundred. A few people chimed in about how such a requirement seemed excessive, but many who contributed to that conversation said they had to work under that same restriction: “No permission, no dissertation, no graduation.” Some flat out said that they were told to just avoid such use altogether- don’t even plan on using images at all. If you had planned to, change your plans. Write about something else.

That’s terrible. Even when the law is likely on your side, your institutional situation can put you in a position where you’re not allowed to assert your rights and do the type of research that could contribute certain types of understanding. And when universities take this type of attitude and base their practice on this attitude, it affects the rights of scholars everywhere. Looking at actual practice is part of evaluating fair use. Making your practices so very restrictive is not only detrimental to your researchers, but to everyone doing research.

We, the scholarly community, need to be fair use advocates. We can’t let fear rule our decisions.

Turnitin Lawsuit

The results of this lawsuit are quite interesting!
The district court in Virginia found that Turnitin’s use was transformative and legal under the fair use doctrine and covered by the End User License Agreement. It also looks at issues of creativity, non-monetary incentives for creativity (ie, grades), and duress.

My blogroll has vanished under mysterious circumstances, so I’ll be updating it again soon.

Stanford to charge students after DMCA take-down

Interesting. Stanford is instituting a reconnection fee for students who have had their network connections disconnected as a result of receiving a DMCA notice. If after 48 hours a student has not responded to a notice, Stanford will disconnect the student from the network.

A few things to note.

-The letter ends with a similar fallacy to NYU’s: “File-sharing copyrighted content without permission is against the law…” I’d request they be more precise. File-sharing copyrighted content without permission might be illegal depending on the circumstances. The file-sharing they are attempting to address very likely is against the law. But they’re more accurate with a following line: “Downloading content illegally through the Stanford network is not an acceptable option.” That is, saying “All file-sharing of copyrighted content without permission is illegal” is quite possibly incorrect, and “Using the network for illegal purposes is unacceptable” is much more palatable. Don’t assume that students don’t know or care about the distinction.

-A DMCA complaint does not necessarily mean that the law has been broken. Their message and policy does not address that in any way. Yes, dealing with the DMCA is a hassle. Yes, in many cases on a university campus, the DMCA complaint is legitimate. But that’s not always the case. The policy does not address exceptions, for first or subsequent complaints (which have harsher penalties). The receiver of the complaint is guilty if they don’t respond within 48 hours. Unless they’re not. But they’ll still have to pay for the hassle that the copyright holder causes the university. I’d also request they take that into account.

Stanford doesn’t have all of the protections that public universities have, and their copyright policies tend to reflect that.

EFF’s a bit off about one thing. ^_-

EFF is sharing information about free virtual classes through the State of Play Academy, which do sound interesting.

The virtual classes will teach you the sort of fascinating stuff your real college never gets around to offering, like “Claims of Copyright Misuse based on First Amendment Interests,” “The Viacom-Youtube Lawsuit,” and “Election 2008 and the Remix Culture.” EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston is signed up to teach a class called “Every Move You Make: Location Tracking and the Law.”

But of course, you can learn those types of things from your “real college.” Our doctoral students, for example, teach about those subjects in our undergraduate classes, including Information in Cyberspace (disclaimer: I’ve written and worked a lot on that class), Social Issues in a Networked Society, Security and Safety in Cyberspace, Collaborative Technologies, and We Like to Watch: Surveillance and Society. ^_^

Google to finish UMich scanning in 5 years- what’s that mean?

I’ve started doing some actual research (and by that, I mean following a more formal methodology with the intent of writing something) about the University of Texas and the Google Project. I’ve been thinking about it and working a bit on it throughout the semester, with some helpful discussions with Georgia Harper and my committee as well as other students, librarians and library employees. One things I’ve noticed that news tends to make a big deal about certain facts about the speed at which Google digitizes materials, like in this article:

That’s amazing to Wilkin, who also leads the university’s own digitization project that began before the school partnered with Google. The in-house project scans about 5,000 volumes a year. At that pace, scanning the entire library would take 1,400 years.

And sure, that’s very interesting- but if the Michigan project is like the Texas project, it’s not quite as amazing. Or rather, it’s amazing on its face, but it’s not something that should really be compared to the library’s digitization efforts. The digitization going on by Google and the digitization university libraries are doing in this situation are two different (and exclusive) actions that serve different purposes. Comparing them isn’t entirely apt.

The broader question of what Google’s digitization means, I’ll be looking at later.

Universities need to get the message

Siva posted NYU’s copyright message to it’s members. It starts being confusing early on.

The University’s stance on this issue is simple: downloading copyrighted material without permission is illegal, and you should not do it. You should also not use your computer to distribute copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder.

Of course, we know better than. I’m sure the people at NYU know better than that as well, and I sincerely doubt that this message reflects their stance, particularly when it comes to scholarship. There are most certainly situations in which downloading copyrighted material without permission is legal, and using your computer to distribute copyrighted material without permission is legal. I’m doing so right now by posting that snippet. In attempting to get out a message, they’re oversimplifying copyright to the point to absurdity. Many universities do so. In this letter they go on to make analogies to plagiarism and theft, and in the process muddling the message as well as oversimplifying (not that it can’t be done, but it’s not done well here). They also make absolute implications- like sharing material with friends for free is illegal. That’s certainly arguable, and I’m sure they know that as well. These are practices that makes statements like this easy for students that know better to dismiss the views of their university entirely.

Universities need to teach students about copyright. That’s something that a lot of people agree on. One page emails, or a web page on file sharing, or having students sign a statement are not going to do it.

And this is why we need to teach ethics related to research…

From the University of Texas Police Department’s Campus Watch:

ART BUILDING, 2300 San Jacinto BLVD

Assault-Physical Contact-Offensive/Provocative: A class was conducting a
class project on the 4th floor deck. As part of his project, a UT
student threw a five gallon bucket of water on a group of students and
began referring to the group as “Nazis.” The group had no
advanced warning that they were going to be doused with cold water.
Occurred: 11-21-06, at 10:30 PM.

Bootlegs, Sacrifices

This past weekend Holly noticed that there was a flea market between Manor and Austin. She’d never been to a flea market before, so she wanted to take a look. Getting in and out was a pain, but there were a few interesting things there. I saw a store that sold video bootlegs, that were very authentic looking. If I hadn’t known how much the actual DVDs sold for, and that many of them were not sold in the US, I wouldn’t have known they were bootlegs. There were lots of anime and martial arts or SF Japanese videos- including Casshern and Azumi, which aren’t out in the US. They had copyright notices and everything. Very weird. The most surreal item I saw was in the last store we stepped in, in the toy section. There were action figures all in a single package. The package contained the father from the Incredibles, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, a Power Ranger, and the Incredible Hulk, with some Ninja Turtles box art thrown in. C’mon, Marvel and DC in one package? 😛

Now that Fall is coming, we’re going to start having more time pressures. ^^; Alas, when my WoW account lapses this month, I’m not going to renew the subscription…

Gearing up for the Fall

We’ve got lots to do for INF 312, including trying to figure out if we’re switching servers. I suspect we’re not at this point. One of the things that I am going to do is change the copyright module… it’s going to be one of the core modules this semester. ^_^