On presenting copyright

Copyright for School Media Specialists: Answers to your questionsOn Saturday I attended a training day for school media specialists. The three afternoon sessions were on Flickr & Blogging (presented by a co-worker of mine), Copyright (presented by someone I don’t know) and Podcasting (presented by YT). I caught the end of the flickr presentation, sat through the whole copyright presentation and then did mine. At the request of a couple of folks who read my tweets during the copyright presentation, I’ve written this post.

Important note: I am not criticizing the presenter. Her presentation style was just fine and her information was accurate in the strictest sense. So please, do not view this a anything vaguely related to a comment on the presenter herself.

The first problem with presenting an issue such as copyright is the fact that it’s a legal issue and the final arbiter of whether you’re violating copyright lays with a judge or a jury after presenting a bucket-load of facts. Those situations generally require lawyers to sort out the details and several times the presenter reminded the audience “I am not a lawyer”. This is not to say that she shouldn’t present this topic. I’ve attended presentations on copyright with a panel of lawyers, and they couldn’t do much better since many times the answer to a given scenario is “it depends”.

Because of this, most copyright presenters will err on the side of caution, especially when presenting to people from schools as, after all, you don’t want to do something that will get your school sued by a copyright holder. So, for example, the presenter mentioned this example from the flickr presentation in which the Westmont Public Library is using flickr to promote new materials. According to the presenter, before doing this, the library should “check the license” in the book to see if this “use” is allowed and, not finding such permission in the item, contact each of the publishers individually, get permission, file that permission away, and then proceed with photographing the item and posting it on flickr.

O.k. that might follow the letter of the law but I would hardly call that a realistic course of action. (In fact, School Library Journal would say that this falls under fair use.) Granted, that is the exactly the technically correct advice to give and I don’t blame her for it. But such advice, in my opinion, needs to be tempered with a bit of reality. Maybe something along the lines of “this may, or may not, fall under fair use and be prepared to stop doing it should a publisher object.” However, no such advice was given and I could tell that by the end of the hour, every school-media specialist in that room looked a bit more paranoid than they did at the beginning of the hour.

I am not trying to say that this is the fault of the presenter. She’s presenting on copyright and therefore does not want (I assume) to run the risk of giving someone “bad advice” and getting in trouble for it later. That’s natural. However, the fact that she’s in the position she’s in, shows just how screwed up the current copyright law is.

P.S. I will give the presenter kudos for pointing out that Mickey Mouse is the driving force behind copyright updating.

P.P.S. From NPR’s Morning Edition today: Stanford Center Advocates for Fair Use on Web

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