on closed content as copyright violation obfuscation

I was present at a faculty collaboration project meeting today, and one of the profs was showing some of the resources they’ve built to support their classroom teaching. It was some impressive video work, which the prof admitted could easily have applications in other classes, or institutions, or even other disciplines. He then went on to describe the rigorous steps that he’d had to take in order to prevent that from happening – video being hosted on an internal streaming server so nobody could find it without seeing the video embedded on a course within Blackboard. He was struggling to implement the embedding as effectively as he wanted. When asked why that was necessary, why not just put the video onto YouTube or Google Video? They had actually thought of that initially – it solves the bandwidth, hosting, and embedding problems quite nicely.

But they couldn’t let non-registered-students see the video because it contained several pieces of media that would involve rather blatant copyright violations if distributed outside the context of the course.

It struck me how much effort and energy was being expended to protect disclosure of these violations, and how relatively easy it would have been to just avoid potential copyright violations in the first place by using Creative Commons and/or Public Domain media instead of commercial.

It then got me wondering – how much of the content generated by institutions is simply not sharable – not as a result of philosophical, technical nor design constraints, but because there wasn’t thought put into the implications of integrating copyrighted materials into this content?

18 replies on “on closed content as copyright violation obfuscation”

  1. To answer your question: Most of it. We have to make sure our professors are copyright literate. Even those how would share their learning objects don’t know if something is considered illegal in their work.

    Any thoughts on where to find public domain and creative commons licensed images, sounds and videos? Please share if you do…

  2. I have no answer, buy my gut says, “A lot” mainly because most faculty are coming from a habit set of showing videos in a classroom where pretty much fair use gives them a lot of latitude, so there’s not much culture or history with thinking about sharable content and its implications.

    Much depends on the context- is the use of copyrighted stuff use to represent a concept that could just as well be represented with cc licensed content or original content? Or is it the only way to express something (e.g. historical footage or using pop culture movies as the topic). I’m of the mindset there ought to be multiple ways to express a message, that nothing could hinge on a single piece of media (unless that it the tpic itself).

    I’m picking up on the irony you describe- that this prof is expending maybe 3 times the effort to publish and lock something down then if he were to “let if flow”. What may be missing for many is that spark when someone else finds and reuses your content; and that in itself, can be nicely viral as a motivation to share more.

  3. Wow. D’Arcy this is a great post and I’m going to forward it to several people that I work with. On another thought, while I was reading your post I thought, “this is why learning objects will never work”.

  4. Yes, this is no doubt a big stumbling block. I’d like to fire off about it from the moral high ground, but the fact is that I’m probably as guilty as anyone of relative minor infractions such as using images from the web in presentations. And I think it’s for exactly the reason Alan Levine just mentioned… some stuff wasn’t made with the idea of sharing in mind.

    But it should be. Hmmm… something new I could give up for Lent?

  5. When I have had to negotiate copyright clearance for an on-line course, one of the ways I sell it to the publisher to try and get it for free is to stress that it will be only available to students registered in the course and that it will be on a password protected server (webCT). Often the publisher wants to know how many students will have access to it, and that in turn determines if they will charge a fee and what that fee will be. Since the number of students becomes part of the copyright agreement, that naturally precludes using it with other on-line or face to face classes without renegotiating the deal.

  6. The limitations of the TEACH Act in the US often feels like a stranglehold for educators. I deal with it every day, but luckily, as you point out, we do try to be cognizant of the 2nd or 3rd hand usages of our materials. Most of our video components are currently broadcast on television, further eliminating possibilities for including copyrighted materials, and so we are basically forced into a position where we either don’t use good, copyrighted media or we pay huge royalties to use it.

    As for the materials that we do author in-house, we are fairly unique in that the institution, not the faculty member, owns the rights to those materials. I currently have a proposal into the Intellectual Property office that would allow for faculty authors to request Creative Commons licensing of institutionally-owned but faculty-authored materials. This would involve a slightly painful proposal and approval process, but at least we’d have a way of finally, officially opening the great materials to the world. At the same time it gives the institution the ability to say, no, what you made could make us rich _and_ famous, and we’re going to try to sell it. But based on my conversations with the IP Office and several folks in upper administration, at the very least they want to provide a means for faculty to engage in the publishing of quality open educational resources (if only for motives that center around institutional self-interest and promotion, but at least it’s a start!)

    Sorry to ramble on so long!

  7. As an administrator I would love to switch tables and require content to be open. This would force educators and other administrators to begin to think of ways to reach the goal of accessible education.

  8. I agree with the sentiment behind this post, but I have to plead from the perspective of the professor. If I am putting together a presentation on, say, medieval church architecture and want to use a few images, I have several choices. I can do a Google image search and grab some (probably good results, almost zero effort). I can go to my favorite monograph or textbook and scan a few familiar ones (predictable, good results, more effort). Or I can try to find CC-licensed images that convey the message I want (unpredictable results, extremely laborious). And this coming from someone who’s relatively web-savvy, and who actually has an inkling of what Creative Commons is (I teach at an institution of 1600 students, and I would be willing to bet that there are five or fewer professors here who have heard of CC).

    The idea that, in order to make things sharable down the line, professors ought to invest time and energy into taking the third course of action seems unrealistic to me in light of the real-world constraints and rewards that govern most faculty members’ daily lives and work. You get no points in the tenure process (at least not at any institution I know of) for putting those in extra hours required just so someone else can freely take advantage of your work. The “spark” that Alan Levine speaks of above may not be enough to motivate someone to sacrifice the time and energy to do something else that’ll actually count towards tenure.

    I realize you’re not suggesting putting all the onus on the individual professor, but on the other hand, at most schools, realistically, that’s who’s going to end up doing the legwork here, I suspect. Of course, I’m in the U.S. and may have a slightly different perspective from many others.

    Anyhow, I wish it weren’t so, and I don’t mean to sound like a nay-sayer. I guess my point is that in the contexts I’m most familiar with, this would require a large-scale cultural change before it would really be practicable.

  9. @Mathieu: Flickr has an option to limit images to those with Creative Commons licenses. Google and Yahoo can search Creative Commons websites, but not images. Internet Archive is a source of open material of many sorts. OER Commons (the site in my profile) includes material that is CC licensed, and you can search by license.

    An interesting post came across a month ago regarding just how many types of searches in Google do not have an option to restrict by license. http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2007-01-04-n81.html

  10. How much? Effing loads! At the OU I’m part of a review of our broadcast strategy and we want to make thousands of hours of archive material available. But it is hugely expensive and time consuming to do. If there’s a bit of music playing – that’s got to be cleared, if there is an interview with someone and they weren’t cleared for internet use you’ve got to go back to them, if it was produced in collaboration with someone else (e.g. BBC) we need to get agreement, etc. So you are effectively clearing it minute by minute. There is some movement with some archives in getting blanket clearance, but it’s not easy and one soon loses the will to live. As you highlight it shows how ludicrous these rights were in the first place – all of this content could be out there ‘doing good’, instead it’s locked away. And 90% of the people involved don’t care, but the process still has to be gone through, and thus it becomes prohibitively expensive. It makes the importance of pushing CC and open content now more significant – it’s not just about now, but the legacy we create.

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  12. great post D’Arcy. What we need is the likes of Wikieducator.org to negotiate a solid Fair Use or Fair Dealings status based on their educational objectives. Wikieducator can host almost all types of media now, so a position like this could pull down this barrier.

  13. Sometimes you can’t get around using copyrighted material.

    Working with a history prof last year, we built a terrific blended course on the history of American technology from the Colonial era to the present. An important part of the course content was video / film, and some of that simply isn’t available CC. Case in point, the scene in “Strategic Air Command” where Henry Morgan gives Jimmy Stewart a tour of the B-36 bomber (in 1955, the main intercontinental bomber). In the space of a few minutes, it provides a snapshot of the height of military technology *and* sets it in the context of the MAD doctrine and the Cold War in general – and it’s a historical document in and of itself. IOW, it’s absolutely perfect.

    The flip side of the issue is faculty who don’t want to share what they’ve created. I spoke with an instructor recently who has some one-of-a kind microscope images that were very difficult to obtain. Expensive, fiddly equipment and shy micro-organisms. He doesn’t want to put them on the web because other people might use them.

  14. @corrie: that’s where fair use comes into play. If they’re not including the entire movie, this is where a legal advisor would be able to help determine if they really would be violating copyright. If “Strategic Air Command” isn’t available for use, they could look for alternatives. I’m not sure if it would meet their needs, but there’s a 1956 film called “On Guard” that might serve some of the same purposes – and it’s freely available via the Prelinger Archives and hosted at archive.org

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