"Wherever you come down on the question of copyright . . . you can't be intellectually honest with yourself unless you acknowledge that ours is a culture of borrow, riff, reinvent, giving props to fallen homies, and dissing your enemies. Our work requires, if you like, citing our sources."
-- Woody Evans --
How Copyright Affects Students:
Due to recent technological innovations, a shift in the scope and interpretation of copyright law is taking place in America's courts, corporate policies, and classrooms. For students, the reinterpretation of copyright law may have profound academic affects (Falkenberg, 2009).
As society and the workplace become ever more digitalized, it is important that students are literate not only in terms of being able to read and write, but also in terms of possessing multiple technological literacies. Some educators believe that students who are not "media literate" are at a severe disadvantage in the modern world.
Media Litaracy is described as "practices that combine critical analysis of media 'texts' with creative media production activities" (Hobbs). In order to teach students media literacy, teachers must feel free to allow students to engage and experiment with multiple media in a technological context. Recent court cases and interpretations of copyright laws have resulted in what some see as draconian penalties for "misuse" of copyrighted material. Major media companies such as record labels and movie production companies have siezed upon these court cases and widely publicized them in their efforts to prevent piracy. This has produced a chilling affect in American classrooms, resulting in an atmosphere of fear and confusion on the part of teachers where their rights and responsibilities in the use opf copyrighted material is concerned. When teachers face misinformation about what exactly is a copyright violation, they may hesitate to use digital media as an instructional tool. This leads to students being short-changed in their education; 21st Century students must be as media literate as possible in this digital world. Students are also short-changed by teachers when they fail to innovate their instructional techniques because of concerns about copyright violations (Hobbs).
Copyright in the Classroom:
In his article, "Copyright and K-12: Who Pays in the Network Era," David Rothman presents the seemingly inherent contradiction between copyright law and the use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes from a variety of viewpoints. Rothman notes that in recent years American public schools have spent less than 3% of their budgets on the acquisition of new textbooks. He concludes from this that this means that many teachers and students are either doing without materials or are pirating them.
Rothman explains that there is no easy answer to the copyright question, and advocates a solution that draws from a mix of ideas that include: 1) preserving copyright law but streamlining the permissions process and expanding the fair use laws, 2) using efficient technologies for the distribution of materials, 3) creating K-12 consortiums with universities and libraries capable of creating content unencumbered by normal restrictions of commercial copyright, and 4) creating a tax-supported national digital library with provisions for compensation of copyright holders (Rothman, 2001).
Possible Advantages for Students:
Something important to note about copyright law is that it applies equally to everyone. Because of this when copyright is interpreted very broadly, the same protections that can be limiting to students in their use of materials can also be advantageous to their protection of their own creative work. Some current interpretations of copyright law contend that as soon as a character is typed on a page or a note of music is recorded it is protected by copyright. Such interpretations hold that even texts and e-mails can be protected by copyright. The advantage this offers to students is that their own creative and intellectual works are very much their own, and are protected as such by law (Rothman).
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