Resolved: I Will Promote Free Culture

Posted on December 29, 2012


New Year’s resolution time: In 2013 I’m going to change my approach to the way I teach students about copyright, fair use, and cultural works in general. It’s going to be a subtle shift: from a “let’s examine the prohibitions” mindset to a “let’s examine your freedoms” mindset. Like most teachers, I’ve been pretty good about having this approach with research use and academic documentation (in keeping with APA, MLA, or whatever style is required), but I’ve been inconsistent with my expectations for other sorts of content (especially things they find online), and more often than not, I’ve steered kids away from potentially risky internet resources toward things like subscription stock music or photo services, where everyone knows they’ll be safe. For the most part (especially with my broadcast 1 students), I’m done with that.

And as far as copyright goes, I’ve really skimped on the intent of copyright law, and its implications for creative work, particularly creative work on the internet.

I’m trying to do better. I’m going to try to expand my classroom conversation about copyright and fair use–make it a little more conceptually complicated to reflect the complications arising in response to the challenges presented by the digital realm. If you look, for instance, at the Student Press Law Center’s materials about copyright, among other things, they draw a distinction between copyright protection of, say, cartoons and ideas that seems pretty straight forward. (Cartoons are protected, ideas are not.) But to what extent is a cartoon that has become part of the popular culture’s vernacular also an idea? Potentially less straight-forward. Anyway, it’s an interesting question, one that will come up as our culture continues to becomes more participatory (and less proprietary), and it’s one that my students will (I hope) have a part in answering in the years to come.  The nature of the internet seems to blur traditional categorical boundaries. It complicates everything. So it makes sense to include it in class.

But in addition to traditional classroom-y things like raising questions, I’m also going to do a better job of helping my students actually access and negotiate those avenues of the internet that are already free, that already encourage and exemplify the values of a truly free exchange of ideas and resources. Rather than prohibiting this or that copyright-protected work, I’m going to emphasize the culture they can use, the works of people who seek collaboration. I realize this is maybe a subtle difference of emphasis, but right now it seems like an important point to emphasize.

So, like the dutiful team player, I’ll put this into a list of behavioral objectives, which I can then dutifully paste into my dutifully-maintained curriculum map. These do not include the objectives that have to do with video editing.

At the end of this project, students will be able to:

  1. Define copyright and various degrees of license protection (including public domain and Creative Commons licenses)
  2. Identify work that is free to use and/or build upon.
  3. Attribute accurately and in accordance with the expectations of the license and use.
  4. Apply a license to their own work that is consistent with the licenses of any (and all) source material used.
  5. Publish their work in a manner and on a platform that allows them to mark their work properly and accurately.
  6. Evaluate the reliability of the places they locate work they wish to use.
Here’s what this will probably look like in the context of my class:

The semester in Broadcast 1 begins with a camera test. Historically, I assigned a montage/editing test as the second project–usually a themed montage (like school spirit, or student life, or whatever). This time I’m going to mix it up a little. Instead of having students shoot new video that goes along with some theme, I’m going to challenge students to remix the video they already have from their first project into something new. Eliminating the need for new video removes that challenge from their plate, and adds more time to focus.

Where I’ve opened things up, I’ll add a requirement that the music they use must be (1) free and (2) available online and (3) licensed for use in video. They’ll need to fully abide by the restrictions in the license (whether it’s attribution, attribution share-alike, no derivative works, whatever).

For someone new to this, finding music that adheres to these requirements can be a daunting task. So I’m going to try to tier this part of the work into two levels of complexity: on the basic level, I’ll provide a couple of mixes of music from WFMU’s Free Music Archive that have been pre-cleared for various uses under Creative Commons licenses, and require that student select a track from these options, then find and comply completely with the terms of that track’s Creative Commons license. The terms of use will vary by track, but they’ll need to locate the licensing info. (Which is why the FMA is so great: the licensing for each track is easy to find if you know where to look and how to decipher the license icons.) For students who dislike the pre-selected choices, they’re free to select their own music from WFMU’s Free Music Archive, but they’ll need to pay careful attention to the licenses of any music they find. I’ll provide some guidance to students who want to take this route.

On the back end of the project–just before they export, turn in, and upload, they’ll have to properly mark their work and attribute the music in accordance with the license stipulations.

One point of clarification:
For this first assignment I’m limiting students effective search to *only* the FMA. There are other sources of CC-licensed music on the Internet, but in my experience the license information isn’t as clearly marked or easy to find as it is on the FMA. For a later project I’ll open this up to the rest of the internet.

Posted in: curriculum, lessons