Copyright and Fair Use

Sadly, it wasn’t until my second year in university that I learned how to write an essay.  The reason being, I never wrote anything original until then.  I read volumes, did my research and then tried to pass off the works of great minds and thinkers as my own.  I thought I was doing due diligence by cleverly working quotes into sentences I wrote and by citing the works I “borrowed” from.  Sadly, very little was my own thinking and my own original work.  My professors knew this and I didn’t get away with anything.  It wasn’t until I learned to analyze, synthesize and deeply understand the texts that I was reading and then link that with my own ideas, did I start to do the work that was asked of me.  I had my first “aha” moment when I started to write an essay on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.  For the first time, I wanted to write something that was original and uniquely mine.  I had started studying Buddhism and Jungian psychology at the time.  My essay was the “The Four Noble Truths and and Frankenstein”.  Somehow I managed to interpret Shelly’s text through a Buddhist lens.  With that, I earned my first A and the satisfaction of creating something I could call my own.  From then on, all my papers were a mixture of mashing up or remixing literary pieces with different kinds of perspectives.  But all of this was before I really knew how to harness the power of the internet and access and analyze the volumes to creative ideas that lay at my fingertips.  Times have changed and so too does our understanding of copyright and what we can, and do to, create new material.

With the constant and exponential growth of the internet and the ability to access and share information, it seems reasonable to rethink what is copyright and how it needs to change in order to meet the changing landscape of our digital world.  Information is ubiquitous.  How we use it ,or abuse it, is something that needs attention and a common understanding.  This understanding needs to be global as the tool that we use to access and share information transcends all geographical and other barriers.

This digital landscape is changing in such a way that the old laws and structures around copyright are just that:  old and seemingly less appropriate. Copyright grew out of an era that didn’t have the internet or electronic files that could be shared and distributed around the world in mere seconds.  In addition to this, there is a culture of collaboration, sharing, mashing up and remixing that leads to altered works that may or may not resemble to original work.  So is it stealing, borrowing or something completely different?  Hard to say.  It depends on how the material is transformed; who the material is intended for; how the material is distributed; and how it is attributed.  This all plays a role in whether the information has been legitimately used, reworked and shared.

In our face-to-face session on April 1st, I was introduced to the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education.  This document outlines 5 principles on how educators can use Fair Use in the classroom for educational purposes.  It is a document every teacher should read and whose principles should be adhered to.  We need to model and teach our students to be good digital citizens and how to use the information that is out there to support their own thoughts and creativity, not replace it.  Student’s need to be taught that their ideas are valued and what they do with the plethora of information is more important than how much of it they know or can access.  Mary Shelly most likely didn’t know anything about Buddhism, but nonetheless, I made a connection that was both creative and more importantly, my own!

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