Saturday, September 11, 2010

To copy or not to copy

The ABCs… of Copyright.

The topic of copyright and intellectual property is nothing like the ABCs - it isn’t that sequential. It is more like tossing your ABCs into a blender and producing a Copyright Smoothie.

Sounds good but the answers are not easy. Or clear. Here’s a taste.

My thoughts on copyright started after making my first blog. I began to wonder what media I can and cannot post on a blog. I have been creating video book trailers the past few weeks. My inspiration came from book trailers I found on Scholastic. Book talks are a great way to get kids excited about reading. I have found that when I mix book talks with video talks I have a more dynamic presentation that incorporates more of the senses. I’ve had 3rd graders hear video book trailers and start jumping up and down like they are at a rock concert. Check out the 39 clues video book trailer – that’s a favorite. (Check out IPad’s eBooks’ – Wow! I jumped up and down, but that’s a separate blog topic.) I thought I would create my own video book trailers and play them on the flat screen monitor outside the library highlighting books every month. Then I thought about putting them on a blog. That made me wonder about copyright issues.

In my video book trailer, I have a section where I show an animated video of a coin flip.  The coin flip is really cool and drives home the point that the main character in the novel is given a special coin that sets off a series of events where he is solving a mystery to save his school. I found the coin flip on YouTube with no reference to its creator. While I know it's okay to hyperlink to the coin flip, is it okay to put it in a newly created video and then post it on a blog? In my video, I also show the covers of three books and illustrations from each of them. I Photoshopped some illustrations and I vaguely remember that being a No No in a library class. I believe it’s illegal to change the original work. So the question is should I or shouldn’t I post my video on a blog?  


We can start with my smoothie picture which is from Microsoft clip art. I went to their website and found in order to use their pictures I have to include the following statement: "Used with permission from Microsoft." (Can I just hyperlink the photo to Microsoft's site or must I have that statement?)

In the Google search engine I typed “blogs legal use of photos site: gov” and found the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. According to it I need the author’s permission to use his or her books. Under the Fair Use Act I can use the book trailers for lessons or educational purposes but it isn’t clear about blogs. This blog is for our COETAIL class so does that make it okay to post my video book trailer? (Or am I using the Fair Use Act as an excuse to not figure out copyright? ) The Fair Use Act says I am not supposed to change the original copy. That’s the No No I couldn’t remember. You can produce a parody. There is a funny copyright video that uses less than 30 second clips from Disney movies to explain Copyright. German director Werner Herzog has a hilarious spoof on the book, Madeline.


Copyright doesn’t always make sense to me. My video book trailers are meant to get kids excited about reading. If they are excited about reading then they will go buy the book or check it out. This favors the author of the book where I am promoting their creation (through my creation). Hence, I don’t think I’d upset any authors. Although I might with my Photoshopping and the anonymous coin flip. So after plodding through all the information it would seem that I need to be careful with blogs because they are public. Sorry reader. I better not post my video book trailer. I did come across an 8th grade class that did book trailers where they drew original pictures and animated them. This could be an alternative if I want to go public with some book trailers.  

What bothers me is how copyright interferes with student learning. And I have had many arguments with fellow librarians who want to make this black and white. But it isn't. Too often the creative side gets stifled because of copyright. I had a student make a great video book trailer using scenes from the animated movie, Coraline. I'm not posting it in any public domain. The student was expressive and used language arts skills being taught in the classroom. It was a great integrated lesson that never would have happened if I had said, "Oh, you can't use those movie clips because it's illegal." What I do need to add to my lessons is a clear understanding to not post those "creations" on any public website and to understand that it isn't legal when put in a public domain. Here's a helpful toolkit for educators from the US patent office. It's important that students understand copyright laws in public domains.

Obviously, students or adults are not going to master copyright laws but as an educator I can teach the concept of digital citizenship where students think about the tech skills they are using and what it means to be responsible when using the World Wide Web.  If you want other musings on this topic check out Alison McAloon’s blog that discusses how she’s used copyright with 5th graders and Wendy Van Bramer who is linked to a “Ted Talk” that discusses  the delicate copyright balance between creators/inventors and publishers/owners. The speaker gives examples of how the trend in laws has been to favor publishers/owners and how this stifles creativity.

It is truly fascinating how the Internet has broken down the old hierarchy of publishing and allows anyone to be an author. I love the creativity that it inspires and the controversy it stirs up in folks. It is very exciting to be a part of the evolution of digital technology.  

Time to digest my Copyright Smoothie.  …Very, Very, very, slowly.

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