Free Culture and Education
(1) From the perspective of student work. How do Lessig's ideas about remixing and remaking existing artifacts (textual, video, musical, graphical, or otherwise) impact traditional notions of copyright and plagiarism? How might the types of assignments we give to students be changed by an emphasis on Free Culture, not only as a legal issue, but as a kind of literacy?
Before I begin I should disclose that I’m the person who last class disclosed that I have a big fat crush on Lawrence Lessig. First of all Lawrence Lessig is against piracy, does believe in the concept of copyright and does believe that plagiarism is not a good thing. The problem is with the copyright laws that have evolved or more devolved over time. He believes that culture should be free. That doesn’t mean a free-for-all place where everybody steals everything. What it means is a copyright law that allows people to use digital media with credit in ways that are similar to the ways that we might use textual information. It also means keeping certain basics of culture free and useable. In the article he goes through some of this background, but more can be found in his many writings, books, articles and video taped lectures on the internet. From his view digital media is being unfairly restricted in ways that restrict creativity.
This June 2005 article by Lessig is interesting because it presents the similarities between the open source software movement and the culture of remixing. It’s hard to sometimes think about a time before YouTube, but what’s interesting to me is that his article basically predates YouTube. YouTube posted their first video in April of 2005, but it didn’t officially launch until November of 2005. In the article Lessig says, “If technology permits the most extreme interpretation of existing copyright law, remixing will not become merely difficult. It will be effectively impossible.” (53) If we look at YouTube we can see that it wasn’t long before almost everything was there and being done, but as time has gone by more and more things are being pulled down and questioned. Some of it is justified, but not all of it.
Many would consider certain usage fair use. (See Lessig's blog here http://lessig.org/blog/2009/05/remix_culture_they_say_fair_us.html )The problem that this presents for us as educators is that students have complete access to all this information on YouTube, but if we strictly interpret the law we might not be able to use it in our classrooms. This generation of students not only accesses this information but also is taking it and remixing it. They are no longer just consumers of information but producers and creators of content.
The film by Brett Gaylor, Rip: A Remix Manifesto presents these ideas and features Lessig among others in the Open movement. It shows how this remixing is taking place, and the movie itself is an example of Remix. Gaylor posted the movie and asked others to remix as he was making the film. Interestingly enough the film’s history of distribution shows some of the issues around copyright restrictions. The film is a National Film Board production and Brett is a Canadian. The film is free to download in the US but not free to download in Canada. However, the film has been posted on YouTube, and any Canadian can view it there. Yet if I wanted to show the film in my class, legally I could be doing something wrong because now it is a public performance. If I bought a DVD from NFB, I’d have to buy a more expensive version that includes public performance for my classroom. In other words the educational system is being restricted and penalized. The playing field is not level here. Out there is everything, in here in education there are more limited resources and more costs. This makes no sense.
The article talks about DRM controls. Since the time of the article some companies have backed off DRM, specifically iTunes for music but not for their videos. We can see a case of DRM in the news just this past month when Amazon’s Kindle removed 1984 and Animal Farm from all users. One day they had their favorite book the next day it was “disappeared.” If this had been a book that a consumer had walked out of the store with, there would be no way to get if back, but because of DRM a company can just take what you might consider to be “your stuff.”
If Lessig and others manage to get some changes made to copyright law, we could have access to more of what is out there and our students could freely use what’s out there, but of course they would still have to abide by the same rules that they would if they used anyone’s work in textual form. They couldn’t steal and represent something as their own, they couldn’t use someone’s work without citation and documentation. What we would have is a more creative project where we don’t have to worry about getting sued. As a literacy remixing culture fits into the same areas as manga, fan fiction, and the other areas mentioned by Lankshear & Kobel. It is taking a part of culture and reformulating it. These forms engage students; these are things that many of them currently know about or take part in. Copyright law has to change. We need to be legally included.
I’m investigating this subject in my major project. I came across a great resource on Public Domain. If you go to this page and look on the right side under Short Videos click composer Anthony Kelley’s video “Great Composers Steal” http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/
(2) From the perspective of teacher work and curriculum. Much of modern curriculum is based on proprietary integrated systems that cost schools a great deal of money and offer teachers little freedom (e.g., "United Streaming"). How might the nature of teachers' work be changed if educational resources operated on Free Culture principles?
I think I’ve partially addressed this in my previous rant, but there’s more I can add. In a world that values education, I’ve never understood the excessive restriction or unfair expenses that education organizations have to endure. At my college we use Blackboard/WebCT. It’s actually a version of WebCT but it is now owned by Blackboard. Companies like this get a hold of a school and really hold them hostage. They charge large sums of money and provide flawed systems. For example, WebCT has this strange quirk that it likes an old version of java. So if you want your WebCT to work all nicey-nice you have to use this outdated java. To do that you have to remove your new java and put this clunker in. Now no self-respecting Mac user would have any part of this nonsense, so we are plagued by glitches. You tend to learn that you can do this thing with Safari but you need to use Firefox for this one.
WebCt/Blackboard then does things like create a new version which you have to then pay for because they no longer support your old system. They sue other companies to squelch competition. (They just lost a case to Desire2Learn http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/07/28/blackboard , but have already initiated another lawsuit) They realize that over time significant numbers of teachers have learned to live with their system and have devoted time to developing courses within, so there is a reluctance to change. The next system is always considered to be “The answer” Last year when I heard about the new Blackboard NG, I automatically dubbed it Blackboard –No Good! But we’ll probably stick with it. Obviously there is Moodle, but to make this big of a change with some of the faculty who were resistant to technology in the first place who now might be semi-happy in WebCT/Blackboard would be difficult. When you add in the communications problems within schools between management, IT and users it gets even more complicated.
The rules of use for materials for school are unfair. Why should a school have to pay so much for a copy of media for public use, when a private use video costs so little. Why would you not be allowed to transfer your out of date media to a new type of media? You’ve paid for it. We can copy our vhs tape to dvd at home.
Education is handcuffed by unfair costs and unfair regulation. A freer cultural environment would take off some of the current restrictions. If more people worked together to create open source tools that would be shared we would have better and more powerful tools; this would free teachers up to do what they do better rather than spending time struggling with resources. We would be free to use the same materials that are available in the wide world, and our students would legally be allowed to be as creative as they want to be. Maybe some might like school better.
Oh what a wonderful world it would be.
Culture should be free. Education really should be free.
As part of your response to #2, check out OER (Open Educational Resources) and post a link to a free curriculum resource you might use.
Here’s the link I found. It relates to my major project but also to this discussion
The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age
Here is their conclusion,
“Without question, digital technology provides new opportunities for rich reuses of content in many educational contexts, from the traditional classroom to the cutting-edge openness of Wikipedia. That progress will continue. But significant obstacles also confront educational uses of content. The law itself is often unclear or unfavorable. Pervasive use of DRM and the permissions maze created by the present licensing regime further impede such uses. And educators and intermediaries have too often responded to these problems with inertia or fear rather than action.
This white paper has identified this interlocking set of obstacles, and has begun the discussion about removing them. The very purpose of the exclusive rights conferred by copyright law is to make enriching content available to all of us. The great promise of the digital age is much the same. In order to realize the full potential of digital technology to transform education, however, our society must understand the need for change and support appropriate reform. We hope that this white paper has helped lay the foundation for such a future.”