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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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February152008

Students and Copyright: Discipline and Punish?

Microsoft has just come out with a new survey on student’s attitudes towards online copyright. The research suggests that very few students have a strong understanding of the issue, but it also makes me wonder just how they’re defining the nature of copyright, and whether it takes into account fair use as much as it should.

This Wednesday, the company announced the results of a survey of 501 students ranging from grades 7th through 10th. The polling, conducted by KRC Research, included an online survey and interviews that took place last month.

The survey examined students’ perspectives on whether illegal downloading was worthy of some form of punishment. “Less than half of the teens surveyed (48 percent) indicated punishment was appropriate for illegal downloading, while 90 percent indicated punishment was appropriate for stealing a bike,” they report, without defining what type of “punishment” they had in mind. (For example, are they actually equating the crime of illegal downloading with same level of criminal severity of someone stealing a bike?)

Nearly half of those students surveyed (49 percent) said they weren’t familiar with rules and copyright laws regarding downloading content from the Internet. In contrast, only 11 percent said they felt they understood copyright “very well.”

Technology blog Ars Technica offers more details from the survey about where these better-informed students learned about copyright and what should be done with IP scofflaws:

Half of those who said they understood the laws of the land reported that their parents were their main source of information on copyright infringement (65 percent for younger teens), while TV, magazines, and newspapers came in a far second at 14 percent. Those knowledgeable about copyright were also more likely to think that illegal downloading should be punishable, with 82 percent saying that punishment should be required and another 28 percent feeling “strongly” about the issue.

I was curious to see where schools came on this list - apparently in third place or worse, given the above quote. Unfortunately, the survey appears to have been taken down from the Microsoft website. The press release, though, is still online, and it points to a youth-oriented website they’ve developed about copyright called MyBytes.com. What struck me as most interesting on this site wasn’t the remixing tools or the interactive polls, but the site’s terms of use, which includes a “copyright FAQ” that include this little tidbit on fair use:

In limited situations, you can use copyrighted works without permission from the copyright holder. It can be difficult to figure out whether use of copyrighted works without permission is legal, though, because the laws in this area are often vague and vary from country to country.

The copyright law in the United States has a doctrine called “fair use”. Fair use provides a defense to copyright infringement in some circumstances. For example, fair use allows documentary filmmakers to use very short clips of copyrighted movies, music and news footage without permission from the copyright owner. Fair use is a difficult concept because determining whether something is a fair use involves weighing four factors. Unfortunately, weighing the fair use factors rarely results in a clear-cut answer.

Rather than applying a fair use test, many other countries have specific exceptions to copyright infringement. The number and type of exceptions vary by country, but they frequently allow copyrighted materials to be used without permission from the copyright holder for activities such as nonprofit research, teaching, news reporting, or private study.

If you incorrectly decide that something is a fair use or falls into an exception to copyright infringement, you could be held criminally and civilly liable and have to pay damages. We suggest you talk to a lawyer if you have questions regarding fair uses of copyrighted works.

I find it fascinating that a site supposedly dedicated to teaching students about copyright advises them to consult a lawyer regarding fair use. The message here seems to be that it’s better to be safe that sorry and err on the side of caution - ie, get absolute permission for everything you do if you don’t want to be criminally prosecuted. It’s that kind of fearmongering that’s made it nearly impossible for educators and students to even learn about fair use, let alone apply it in their curricular activities.

“This survey provides more insight into the disparity between IP awareness and young people today and highlights the opportunity for schools to help prepare their students to be good online citizens,” Sherri Erickson of Microsoft concludes in its press release. I totally agree with the point that schools need to get more involved with teaching kids about online copyright. I just hope that when they implement a copyright curriculum, they seek out multiple viewpoints first. -andy

Filed under : Policy, Research

Responses

Although not a detailed survey I think it does reflect our society. I work with the elementary level and try to instill in them why we cant copy and paste anything we want etc but then the teachers break it all the time any of them with any knowledge claim fair use but they dont understand the internet and fair use, it is something that must be enforced from the top down.

Andy et al:

We had a good discussion on this topic (and more) in the Classroom 2.0 LIVE Conversations series, and both the audio and chat were recorded and can be accessed at http://www.classroom20wiki.com/LIVE+Conversations. We’ve got a second open teleconference as a follow-up on the same subject (Creative Commons, Open Content, and Copyright) Wednesday at 12 noon Pacific, 3pm Eastern. Any and all are welcome. I’m also going to make Julie Linder at eff.org aware of your column, as I think you may want to track their upcoming work in this area.

The funny thing is if you really ask a student if they know what they are doing is wrong, their attitude is yeah but I really like the song and don’t have the cash but I do have the know how; Besides why would I pay for it when I can get it for free? Most adults have this attitude and it’s up to adults to set a different example.

for considerations of copyright and fair use in the classroom, be sure to see the recently-published report from the Center for Social Media: The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy (pdf).

on a separate note, i think it’s clear that our notion of copyright has to change for the networked age. would we really equate downloading a song with stealing a bike? the legal lockdown approach is an affront to common sense considering the technological genies we’ve let out of the bottle in the last decade. let’s accept the cultural changes these technologies will entail, and fix these laws rather than criminalizing kids.

Media owners have been overstating their legal rights for the past 20 years. Older teachers remember a time when students and teachers felt comfortable using copyrighted materials for teaching and learning. Looking at the educational materials provided to teachers on the topic of copyright and fair use these days, you can’t help but wonder if they are deliberately intended to be confusing. The overall feeling is “You can’t. You shouldn’t. Beware.”

That’s the wrong message, since copyright was designed to stimulate creativity, not clamp down on it. Fair use is the doctrine that enables sharing without payment or permissions. There’s no “bright line” rules here— each case needs to be considered on its own merits.

We are now developing materials that will help teachers introduce the reasoning processes behind fair use to their students, including a statement of best practices that will clarify fair use for teachers and students. for more information:http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources

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