I have been following Doug Johnson, director of media and technology at Mankato MN, ever since I started asking questions about copyright and intellectual property. He’s got a great blog called the Blue Skunk and has written lots of great stuff that’s been incredibly helpful as I struggled with the whole area of copyright.

I hate copyright. I’ve basically ignored it for 30 years. If I had a question, I just went to Carol Simpson‘s book.

But because of a few questions about how to use Youtube videos, copyright has become Doug’s new sacred cow. As in, to sacrifice the sacred cow. Basically, we need to start to err on the side of the user, rather than the owner of the material.

A study titled “recut, reframe, recycle: quoting copyrighted materials in user generated video” led him to think that it”s time to teach kids what they can do, not what they can’t do. According to Doug, teachers many times begin to “hypercomply.” He says that we should not stop doing things that make good instructional sense because there MIGHT be some sort of violation.

We need to quit worrying about finding a Safe Harbor for Fair Use and start exploring the Outer Limits of Fair Use.

Three things he says we need to think about:

  • change focus from what’s forbidden to what is permitted
  • err on the side of the user
  • be prepared to ask the tough question

Another way to think about this is:

Rather than teach kids than they can only use 10% of someone else’s work, or 150 words, for example, ask kids to think about what is the percentage of content that they created.

Doug quotes “Ten Common Misunderstandings about Fair Use” when he suggests that “applying Fair Use reasoning is about reaching a level of comfort, not memorizing some rigid set of laws.” I love that!

This moves media specialist and teacher from fair use cop to fair use counselor. For example, we need to stop telling kids and teachers that everything on the internet is protected by copyright and start explaining the idea of the Creative Commons – much of newly created online material is being shared.

Transformative should be a key word for teachers – if I use part of a pop song in any way other than to sell pop music or part of a movie poster in any way other than to sell movies, I’ll be okay. When a kid or teacher transforms something, no big deal.

It all comes down to the U-Turn Syndrome. Doug was recently talking with a group of Thai teachers and one of them mentioned that the U-Turn Syndrome is why the United States has been so successful.

Here in Thailand, when a driver comes to an intersection, unless there is a sign that specifically says that u-turns are legal, the driver assumes that u-turns are illegal. But in your country, if a driver comes to an intersection and there is no sign, the driver assumes that a u-turn is allowed.

I love Doug’s suggestion that we basically need start thinking about copyright with the idea that making u-turns is not necessarily a bad thing.

(You can find a ton of helpful stuff at Doug’s wiki.)