Don't copy that floppy (or workbook)
March 27, 2008 9:05 AM   Subscribe

An associate professor and former librarian is collecting education copyright infringement cases in a database.

So far, the database is small (9 entries), but still interesting. You can add to it here.
posted by starman (15 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Last night I watched the 'educational use only' copy of Superbad from my uni library. I have to report that it contained no pictures of wind turbines and thus will not be featuring in any future article I write about media representation of renewable energy. I assert this was the only reason I watched it.
posted by biffa at 9:12 AM on March 27, 2008

What a waste.
posted by rbs at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2008

What a waste of what?
posted by dabitch at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2008

See also.
posted by washburn at 10:03 AM on March 27, 2008

"Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don't forget."

Carol Simpson ceased to be a teacher the moment she put service to commerce ahead of her responsibility to her students.
posted by felix betachat at 10:05 AM on March 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

What happened to the educational exception for fair use?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2008

See also.

Yeah, I don't see it as much of a whisteblowing database as much as "look what lawsuits have come about or have been settled" database. They're not asking for incidents of infringements, but lawsuits and letters. I think the point is educators need to learn about copyright to avoid getting themselves in these situations.
posted by starman at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2008

Perhaps Carol Simpson and other concerned copyright advocates could, instead of urging cash-strapped public schools to cough up more dough, contribute to any of a number of burgeoning open instructional projects: This would set a fine example for children not only by teaching respect for copyright law, but also by demonstrating that it's possible to work selflessly for the greater good rather than resigning yourself to a dismal world where you must bend to the market's every whim.
posted by phooky at 11:08 AM on March 27, 2008 [8 favorites]

Says Ruth Dukelow, associate director of the Michigan Library Consortium... "Copyright is just not on the administration's radar."

Not when the terrorists start selling pirated DVDs! We'll see who's laughing then!

Ascribing "service to commerce" as her motive might be unduly harsh; could it be that she is trying to help protect educators and students from trigger-happy copyright owners who would happily set schools and students in their sights? After all, the database contains cases which have already been targeted, rather than infringements which might be potential targets for a lawsuit.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:10 AM on March 27, 2008

of course, the less educated people are, the less they're going to be able to read pirated textbooks

it's a virtuous cycle and a brilliant business plan
posted by pyramid termite at 11:16 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having a high-school teacher as a fiancee means that I get to see how woefully underfunded schools and teaching positions are (even here in Canada). There have been many times that I've seen teachers break copyright to create innovative instructional materials for students. This isn't a matter of the teachers trying to shaft the content owner, they simply do not have the personal or institutional money available to pay for this content. Teachers, principles and administrators aren't profiting off these infringement cases, they're just trying to help kids learn.

I'll admit that there is a limit. It would be irresponsible of administrators to purchase one textbook and make photocopies of it for the students; there is a budget for these sorts of things. As suggested above exhausting all open-source projects before purchasing commercial packages would go a long way towards cutting costs and educating students about the benefits of open-source. But I sure hope we're not asking teachers to pay royalties for each and every image they download and add into a quiz or fact sheet.

It's hard enough for teachers to grab kids' attention as it is without worrying about big-brother breathing down your neck over the photocopy you made of a Family-Guy character. It will be a sad day indeed when a school gets sued for that.
posted by talkingmuffin at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Why, it's almost like copyright legislation is out-of-phase with important social goods! Who saw this coming?
posted by klangklangston at 12:06 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's a decent breakdown of Fair Use and how it applies to teachers.

The criteria are as clear as they can be, though they leave the door open to an especially litigious author to sue for just about any use.

A related subject that many educators often don't understand is what an ASCAP/BMI licensing agreement allows and doesn't allow as far as music use goes. Since many schools pay this licensing fee in order to be used in order to perform or play music in public forums.

In order to have the right to play music in public at a school or University (anything but face to face performance), you must buy a license. If you don't buy a license, any public use of music (including, yes, playing the radio in the lunchroom) is potentially grounds for a lawsuit.

Even if you get an ASCAP/BMI license, you don't have the right to alter the work. "Alter" is frequently interpreted fairly broadly. For example, if I play "One Way of Another" by Blondie as pre-show or intermission music for my dance concert, that is not considered altering a piece. If I set choreography to it, I have altered the piece because I'm using images to effect the way the song is perceived. To do the latter, I need to purchase grand rights.

This also applies to small arts organizations. I can't tell you how many plays and dance concerts I've seen that use music illegally during performances. They use it very effectively, on occasion, but if they didn't pay for grand rights, they aren't allowed to use it.

It is difficult to persuade teachers and artists that they should follow the law where this is concerned because the expense is so great. We did a children's play called Operation Elvis out here many years ago and use for certain Elvis song per performance was something like $150 a pop. You figure, this show has 80 performances, so just using "Love Me Tender" was going to run the company $12,000 - which was four times the budget of the show. Furthermore, there were like 9 songs by Elvis. Fortunately, some of the copyright holders of Elvis' songs waived the fee in light of the fact that this was a non-profit children's theatre, but you get the point.

Another reason it is difficult to convince people to stop doing this is because the odds of getting caught are genuinely low, especially the further away you are from a metropolis. If you've gone thirty years without anyone ever getting caught, the message is pretty clearly "do what you will shall be the law." The fact that Ms. Simpson has only been able to document 8 cases speaks to this. Its sort of like the file sharing lawsuits. Yes, they have resulted in enormous fines for some few people, but not nearly enough people to make people actually afraid of getting caught.

Anyhow, please don't pillory Ms. Simpson. She, like many librarians, is charged with trying to protect schools from getting nailed with intellectual copyright lawsuits. She's just the messenger. You (and schools) can still choose to violate the laws, but at she has made you aware that there may be consequences. Better to violate the law and know that you might be sued for $100k then not know you're violating the law and be sued for $100K.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:13 PM on March 27, 2008

"I know of cases that range from multiple photocopying to computer software piracy-installing on many machines when you have a license for only one. I know a district where two pages were copied from a professional book and included in a district curriculum guide. The author found out about it and sued. The district settled out of court for $40,000. I know districts sued by Disney for using homemade copies of cartoon characters. A school district in Texas purchased a single copy of a high-stakes assessment workbook for each grade level, then sent the copies to the district print shop. The print shop duplicated a copy for each student in the district. The copyright owner found out, and sued the district, alleging $7 million in damages."

I am really strongly supportive of educational use as long as the teacher isn't doing something like making a coursepack or book that the school then profits from selling. And my understanding is that most of the time, you ask permission, you explain your use, possibly you have to pay for it, it's ok. I'm not saying that the hoops in place are good, or that I wouldn't adore more creative commons licenses out there. I think copyright laws need to be rethought somewhat for educational use in some situations.

That said... these examples all read as worst-case-oh-how-dumb to me. Copying software. Buying a license for a single use and then making copies... for the entire school district. Using a Disney character. Harmless, but it's Disney. They'll sue the pants off anything moving that they think is infringing upon The Mouse.

On the one hand, I answered an email about this recently from a teacher asking permission to alter and use something in her class. I'm glad she did-- her use falls cleanly within allowed educational use according to the copyright statement for what she wanted to use, but better safe than sorry. But I couldn't help but feel a bit bad for her. It's a resource made for teachers to use in the classroom. If our copyright worried her, it signals to me that there is significant paranoia out there.

On the other hand, I routinely have to explain to people that putting a PDF of a paper you wrote that you published in some journal up on your website doesn't make the article open access.
posted by Tehanu at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2008

On the other hand, I routinely have to explain to people that putting a PDF of a paper you wrote that you published in some journal up on your website doesn't make the article open access.

Worst sentence ever. It goes like this:

1. Publish in journal. Sign copyright agreement to do so.
2. Put PDF of article on your website without checking copyright agreement.
3. Rejoice in "open access."

I'm not gonna lie, I love finding PDFs I want/need on people's own sites. But there's a difference between a copyright agreement that allows you to do that, ignoring a copyright agreement that doesn't allow you to do that, and actual open access.
posted by Tehanu at 1:38 PM on March 27, 2008

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