Would you walk into a store and steal a piece of art off the wall to hang in your living room? Of course not, but taking images off the internet to put on your web page seems easier. Why is that? According to Spinello (2005), the problem is the nature of digital media. After watching this video about Copyright the ethical dilemma about digital property will make more sense. As the video states, many use copyrighted material without realizing the issue. Others are desensitized to the value of intellectual property because of the ease of acquisition of digital property (Spinello, 2005). Spinello (2005) continues by stating that if a physical item is stolen, the owner no longer has the original, but if a digital copy is taken, the owner still retains the original, so is that really stealing?
A new generation is emerging, no longer just mere consumers of media but creators, borrowing from the past to create an exciting new future of entertainment called Remix (Gaylor, 2008; Lessig, 2008). Gaylor (2008) describes the Remixer’s Manifesto as
1) Culture always builds on the past,
2) The past always tries to control the future,
3) Our future is becoming less free, and
4) To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.
Culture always builds on the past (Gaylor, 2008). Art, music, film, even software builds upon the past to create new and better iterations (Gaylor, 2008; Lessig 2008; Chopra & Dexter, 2008). The master of building upon the past was Walt Disney, who used many stories from the public domain as inspirations for his greatest films (Gaylor, 2008; Lessig, 2008). If history has shown artists build upon the creations of the past, a healthy public domain is essential for future creativity (Gaylor, 2008). This domain has been greatly reduced by the abuse of copyright.
The past tries to control the future, our future is becoming less free (Gaylor, 2008). According to Lessig (as cited in McChesney, 2006), Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been restricting copyright which may or may not respect fair use. Our copyright laws are crafted after the 1710 Statute of Anne, created as a balance between the rights of a creator to be paid for their work and the benefit of the public (Gaylor, 2008). After fourteen years of protection, the product becomes public domain. Courts have extended Copyright protections, influenced by special interest groups eleven times between 1962 and 1998 (Lessig, 2008). Currently, the copyright term for individuals is the life of the creator plus seventy years, and for a company, the term is ninety-five years (Gaylord, 2008; Lessig, 2008; Spinello, 2005). Walt Disney built an empire creating from the past, then after his death, the Walt Disney Corporation changed the law so nobody else could ever do the same (Gaylord, 2008; Lessig, 2008). We are now less free.
Copyright was designed to protect “intellectual property”. But the abuse of the system puts such restrictions on use that we are not able to create. Lessig (as cited in McChesney, 2006) described the Grokster case in which the courts ruled that a company is responsible for the illegal actions of their customers and put restrictions on products that could have the “intent” to be used to violate copyright laws. What defines intent? Any technology with the capability of changing the way information is shared can now be illegal because it could have the intent of violating a copyright. Because of the greed of a few corporations, according to Lessig (as cited in McChesney, 2006), we are behind the rest of the world in innovation.
So copyright, a law passed to balance the protection of the creator and the public, now mostly benefits the interest of the corporations representing the creator. With this in mind, teachers must be aware of the materials they use in their classrooms and of the fair use policy. As a start, I am sharing a link to a Copyright for Teachers video, which does a good job breaking down what teachers can and can not do under Copyright and Fair Use. We can not all become experts on copyright, but we must share what we know and be role models for our students.
To build free societies you must limit the control of the past (Gaylor, 2008). Lessig (2007) describes American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ (ASCAP) abuse of power causing the creation of Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), which eventually broke the music cartel of the time (ASCAP). The first step in limiting control is to create using public domain and creative commons. Many websites have become available for sharing materials using a creative commons license. In fact, I was so inspired by the material I found, I created, “Common Remix” using only materials carrying a creative commons license.
Chopra, S., & Dexter, S. (2008). Decoding Liberation: The promise of free and open source software / Samir Chopra and Scott D. Dexter. (Routledge studies in new media and cyberculture). New York: Routledge.
Gaylor, B. (Director). (2008). RIP: A Remix Manifesto [Video file]. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved July 3, 2018, from Kanopy.
Lessig, L. (2007, March). Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity [Video File]. Retrieved from
Lessig, L. (2008, January, 31). Lawrence Lessig: Final Free Culture Talk [Video File]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/109336502
McChesney, R. (2006, April, 16). Lawrence Lessig, copyright expert [Radio broadcast]. In Media Matters. Urbana, IL: Illinois Public Media.
Spinello, R.A. (2005). The impact of the internet on our moral lives chapter 1 in The impact of the internet on our moral lives. Edited by Cavalier, R.J. State University of New York: New York.