A blow to academic freedom.

I just read about this decision on ALA’s academic freedom list, and I see that Scrivener’s Error has provided an analysis of a recent federal decision that adversely affects the availability of controversial materials to students. In an effort to promote “decency,” they’re getting books removed from the curriculum and the libraries.

When I was in junior high, I had an English teacher that similarly gave us the option of reading banned books. I read them all. I read Go Ask Alice, Johnny Get Your Gun, Where the Red Fern Grows, and other books that had been the victim of censorship. It was incredible to me other people thought that they should determine what I should read and actively deprive me access to those amazing works. I feel terrible for today’s students… This decision is not an appropriate way to deal with controversy.

Here’s one of my favorite responses to calls for book banning.

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.

Another RIAA Copyright Horror Story

I was approached by an undergraduate student last week. She had recently received a letter from the RIAA demanding that she pay them a settlement for infringement. They had the names of seven songs, the times when the songs were shared and an IP address associated with the sharing. The organization had apparently issued a subpoena to the University of Texas, as the settlement letter was able to specifically name her with information provided from the University that showed the IP address associated with her EID (UT’s electronic identification) at those times. Here’s the problem.

She didn’t share those files.

You see, she was never able to quite figure out how to connect her laptop- her only computer- to UT’s new restricted secure 802.1x wireless network while on campus. That is not unusual- I’ve provided tech support to several people about that very issue since the implementation of the network.

So, while on campus, she used other people’s laptops to log onto the wireless network. And she frequently left the computer while still being logged in to the network. It’s not difficult to forget to log out- you often have to actively clear the credentials from the computer, and the early automated installers that set up the network didn’t provide an easy way to do so.

If anything, she’s guilty of not following UT’s Acceptable Use Policy. Technically, other people were using her EID. The consequences for that, however, should be far different from the consequences for infringement.

She called the RIAA, and they weren’t interested in her story or any proof she might be able to provide. They told her to settle. She’s contacted UT’s Legal Services, but as the person who might have actually done the sharing is probably also their client, so they have a conflict of interest and couldn’t represent her. She’s contacted other attorneys and all the people that she could think of, but all the while the clock is ticking. She has 10 days. After that, the RIAA takes further action, and the costs go up.

At this point in time it looks like she might have to settle and pay thousands of dollars for infringement that she didn’t commit.

“I think filters are there mostly for teachers.”

On the one hand, I think it’s quite disturbing that children have to really learn about copyright now while they’re children- so much for unfettered creativity. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to talk to several middle schoolers participating in a community-sponsored film workshop series, and they seriously give me hope for the future. They asked great questions – “What about AMVs [Anime Music Videos]? In Japan, they have fan comics and people are okay with that, why can’t we do that here? What about fan fiction? What if you mix up songs? What about posting clips on YouTube? What about game reviews? Does giving credit matter?” ALL of them had read fan fiction. ALL of them were familiar with P2P technology. ALL of them decided to share their films with a Creative Commons attribution-non commercial license. ALL of them wanted to allow people to create derivative works- even if there was the risk they wouldn’t like what people did with it.

There was even one student following the Harry Potter Lexicon case.

The other funny thing happened as we were going to find a computer with Internet access. One of the younger boys described in passing how he used a proxy server to bypass school filters in order to get to MySpace at school. Most of the students seemed to know of a few ways to get to the sites that they wanted to visit. Referring to the filters, one of the girls confided,
“I think they’re there mostly for the teachers.”

Turnitin Lawsuit

The results of this lawsuit are quite interesting!
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080326-plagiarism-screener-gets-passing-grade-in-copyright-lawsuit.html
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.

Judging Library Students in the 50s…

How would you rate the “general apperance” and “grooming” of your library student employee?
Would you say that the student is “cheap?” “Effusive?” “Queer?” Or has a “poor background?”

Alas, I don’t have the entire provenance of this document, which I finally got around to scanning after a few years. So I don’t really know if it came from the 50s, earlier or later… ^_^ Basically, this document was found in the back of an old piece of furniture in the Perry Castaneda Library at the University of Texas at Austin about three years ago, as the furniture was being surplussed. Someone thought I’d find it amusing and so passed it on to me, and I copied it.

The document is “The University of Texas Library School Student Rating Sheet,” date unknown, intended for librarians to evaluate their student workers from the library school. No one I’ve spoken to at the iSchool or the Library recognizes it, but it is funny and disturbing. ^_^

“Consider qualities listed at left below. Put a check after each quality in the column that will best describe the student. Do not try to check any quality for which you have no basis for judgment. Then consider qualities listed at right below. Put a check at the extreme right of any quality which you think you detect in the student.”