Week 11/11/11 and Eleven!!! Turn the dial to 11!

Just like Nigel (lead guitarist of the mockumentary band Spinal Tap) who thought by painting an 11 on an amplifier dial would somehow magically make it louder, using property without checking the copyright or availability of use is problematic to say the least.

This week’s chapter on copyright is on a topic my discipline especially has difficulty with. Using classical music is most often not much of a problem, but rock and roll is a constant problem. So many bands, such as The Beatles, don’t even own the rights to their own music that it makes it very difficult to assign listening to students in this type of course. Last I checked, The Beatles catalog is the most tightly held catalog of music that exists.

Most History of Rock textbooks do not even include any music CDs since getting the rights for the songs is either too costly, which would be passed down to the student of course, or not available at all. Consequently most instructors of this subject (yours truly included) create YouTube lists for their students to study. I was thrilled to read in the Ko and Rossen that YouTube would then have the copyright problem and not I for having directed my students to their sight. On occasion a link I provide has been pulled by the artist, but that does seem to be a bit rare especially since there are many of the same songs in duplicate videos to choose from.

Another great alternative to YouTube are internet radio players such as Grooveshark. With this program there is no downloading available, but I can create playlists for each unit of my course, create a link to the playlist for my course LMS or blog and students can listen online.

Some of my concerns are:

1) Open source content – Are even the pictures I use for visual interest in my new blog subject to copyright? For instance the above pictures of Nigel’s amp dials and The Beatles Abbey Road album cover were easily found by searching in Google’s image search. Are even these types of public uses breaking the law?

2) I loved the mash-ups in Lawrence Lessig’s talk, but are these at risk as well?

3) I was once told that everything I create on campus ultimately belongs to that campus. First of all, how exactly would they know if I created a Powerpoint show on campus or at home, and really!!??? I’m a bit skeptical on that one, but I wouldn’t put it passed some campuses to enforce this type of law.


I absolutely loved Mr. Lessig’s discussion of RW vs RO creativity. Being in a creative field, I am a huge supporter of no censorship and open content. I am fortunate enough to live in a country that still allows freedom of speech so if I don’t like something I hear or see I have the right to turn off the broadcast or walk away. I feel it is a large part of my job to aid students in creatively solving problems and learning. If they step over a line then my job is to politely show them why and give them options for a better solution. I about fell out of my chair after viewing the Jesus will survive video!!!

There were lots of provocative thoughts in this week’s lesson. I imagine in some ways I am still a bit of a rebel with my internet use. And, in the words of Rob Halford, front man for the band Judas Priest, I guess I’m just “breaking the law, breaking the law“.   



3 thoughts on “Week 11/11/11 and Eleven!!! Turn the dial to 11!

  1. Ted Major says:

    Hi Jean–

    You’ve pointed out some really sticky issues of copyright law. One of the problems with the way we write our laws is that very often, the public interest gets left out of debate. As others have pointed out, it’s a mighty strange coincidence that every time Mickey Mouse nears the end of his copyright term, congress finds a way to extend the length of copyright protection.

    Your questions above boil down to two separate areas of copyright law: Fair Use and Works Made for hire. Neither one involves bright-line tests. First of all, under US copyright law any “original work” is copyrighted automatically as soon is it given some fixed form. If you write a song and sing it to someone else, there’s no copyright, but as soon as you write it down or record it, you are protected by copyright. So for your first question, every image you see on the web (unless it is in the public domain) is subject to copyright.

    The question you have to ask about using photos and about mashups is whether that use is protected by Fair Use. Courts look at four factors: the nature of your use, the type of work being copied, the amount copied, and the economic effect of your copying. The rules are intentionally vague, and the determination of Fair Use is somewhat subjective, so relying on the law alone can be tricky. Luckily, the Copyright Office has issued a guide to reproducing copyrighted works for teachers and librarians that provides more specific guidelines. It’s not legal advice, but it does provide guidelines that will almost certainly keep you within Fair use.

    A trickier question is ownership of copyright in works you create on campus. Traditionally under copyright law there has been a “teacher exception” which says that any class materials a teacher creates for teaching belong to the teacher (or professor) and the the school/university. The big question is whether that exception survived the 1976 re-write of US copyright law. A few cases have addressed it tangentially, but there has been no direct ruling. It may be that your own campus has a policy addressing the issue. The system I work for has a pretty draconian policy that “the use of institutional time and/or resources results in the forfeiture of said intellectual property.” This policy is a pretty strong disincentive to create, since it strips from me any rights to materials I create. Practically, I doubt that the college would pursue a copyright lawsuit against me if I took a new job and re-used a slide show I created while working here, but the threat is there.

    In the absence of a specific policy at your institution,the ownership of works you create incidental to teaching is determined by whether they are works made for hire. The copyright office again provides guidance, but the determination may be tricky. Is the creation of a presentation for class within your “scope of employment”? Are you hired to teach, or to create instructional materials? What if the textbook you use provides slide presentations?

  2. I agree with your comments and wonder about the legal interpretation of “fair use” – it does seem that the rules are intentionally vague and subjective. Yet if we are allowed to use these materials in a F2F classroom, are we able to use these materials online in a password protected site? I’m still trying to answer this question.

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