Internet Publishing and Copyright Considerations

This week, Mr. Maddox and I co-taught a lesson about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons in the age of the Internet. As Mr. Maddox said, this lesson was designed to help students “get rich and stay out of jail.”

Mr. Maddox started by asking everyone to listen to a few seconds from a song by Girl Talk to see how many bits and pieces from other musicians they could identify. (The only one I recognized—James Taylor—was the one least often identified by the students, which made me feel old.) Since Girl Talk’s whole shtick involves creating music using samples from other songs, this raised the questions of the day about what is legal and appropriate use of someone else’s intellectual property or artistic material.

As another potentially controversial example, I shared the first ten minutes of Jonathan HarrisTED Talk called “The Web’s Secret Stories.” In this video, he explains how his “We Feel Fine” project scans the Internet for instances of the phrase “I feel . . .” and pulls the accompanying text and images into his computer program, which projects the information in a variety of dynamic visual formats. We discussed our thoughts and reactions to this project and I noted that some students thought this project was a bit invasive, while others felt that anything posted on the Internet was fair game.

Given that so many students are on Facebook and MySpace, we next asked them to read key excerpts from Facebook’s Terms of Use, which have been getting quite a bit of media attention lately after they were changed and then changed back to a previous version as a result of the recent brouhaha.

The “Think Before You Post” video from Bebo Safety makes the point that anything you post on the Internet can be saved and redistributed by anyone who has access to it. On the other hand, just because we’re able to copy and paste words and images posted by others, doesn’t mean it is ethical or appropriate to do so.

The second part of our lesson had to do with Creative Commons, the nonprofit organization dedicated to “provid[ing] free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry.”

We watched and discussed the “Get Creative!” video introduction to the concept of Creative Commons—how it got started and what they’re trying to do. Since “You can use CC to change your copyright terms from ‘All Rights Reserved’ to ‘Some Rights Reserved,’” we also looked at the different kinds of limitations that creators can put on their work such as attribution only, non-commercial, no derivative works, and share alike.

A multitude of web content is now licensed using Creative Commons, including third-party content on the White House website, photos on flickr, and our Internship Ning.

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