Sunday, January 23, 2011

Copyright: Bring It, Teacher Boy, or Shut Up. (Girls too.)

I've been, more or less, mandated to take an online, busy-work type course in instruction from my sponsoring institution. (This despite the fact that I've written and taught many online courses.) One of this week's objectives was to "Understand U.S. intellectual property and our institutional policy." First off, a policy is far easier to understand than the very concept of intellectual property, since the latter is understood only by squishy social convention; and, second, since society itself is still unclear on the status of information as "property." (Hmm--maybe those two reasons are equivalent.)

Generally, if you're making money off of it, or you're losing money from it being given away, that's what society (actually, those who want compensation for creation) really care about. It's not the "property" aspect, but the profit that is made or lost on that property (including legal penalties, which, again, would be for a loss of profit) which is at issue.

As a professor, the safest practical policy seems to be that one makes sure there is a protected gateway where only verified students of one's sponsoring university can get to the material.

Also, it's probably important to note that God (or his tool of wrath, The State) will not instantly strike you dead if you've violated copyright. Copyright holders will send a cease and desist letter asserting themselves as copyright holders, and with an explicit deadline for compliance. Yet even THIS is not so clear, as some kinds of copyright might only hold for a predetermined period, such as on news sources:
"FACTS, ruled America’s Supreme Court in 1918 in the 'hot news doctrine', cannot be copyrighted. But a news agency can retain exclusive use of its product so long as it has a commercial value."[1]
Note the magic value phrase for profit again:"so long as it has commercial value." Happily, TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107 "Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use", give us academic types quite a bit of cover:
"the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."[2]
I love legalese. And I think that's my favorite passage in all U.S code too, since it mentions these primitive things called “phonorecords.” (Actually, the term is redefined.)

Overall, it seems to me the issue is this: if somebody has an attorney tell you to quit it, are you going to seek attorney advice and fight back; or, are you going to stop short, take whatever down, and recall that commerce rights will trump education everytime when they come into real conflict? Seems pretty clear to me: if you're not rich enough to parley--fall in line and shut up.



[image] used w/o permission both as a form of civil disobedience and for educational purposes.

[1] "Owning the news: Copyrighting facts as well as words" The Economist June 24th, 2010. [Actually, this is just linked to the comments.  I don't own the copyright to this article, but the comments are way better than the article anyway.]

[2] "United States Code: Title 17" Cornell University Law School Legal information Institute (Accessed 1/23/2001)

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At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Grue Hair Man said...

Academics aren't always safe..,,14741186,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Grue Hair Man said...

Also, sometimes the State does strike you down, without due process:

Note, some of these domains had no infringing material, and others weren't even hosted in the US.

The content owner lobby has done an amazing job of convincing the government that they should be copyright police, free for the content owners, at the cost of tax payers. Yay.

BTW, when I was a kid I never could quite grasp what the FBI had to do with a copied movie, per the FBI warning at the beginning of them all at the time, apparently I hadn't heard of lobbying yet.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...

German laws on copyright regarding pre-schools are different than U.S. lawes on copyright regarding colleges. So, there is no threat or risk for my context.

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...

Also, seizing a domain name is a different kind of govt. action than notifying, and then subsequently prosecuting, an institutionally affiliated professor--one using materials behind a platform-gated course delivery module. Again, no threat or risk for those in my working context.


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