Copyright and Digital Storytelling

According to the documentation we read for this week, the legal constraints of copyright are fairly clear for our digital stories. Unless a digital story is entirely original in terms of audio and visual content, it will run up against copyright issues, and only then if the video is out of earshot of any copyrighted audio content or corporate logos: blank background, neutral clothing for all subjects, white noise audio background preferred. On the other hand, if the work is only going to be used in the classroom, a teacher seems to be pretty secure within Fair Use requirements. As soon as the work is considered for public dissemination, the long and potentially expensive process of securing permissions for every image will be operative. Historical material remote enough to be in the public domain would make a decent story doable. As the point person for getting permissions for the Children and Youth in History project at CHNM, I have been very fortunate in getting many organizations to give us permission with a simple form letter that butters them up. Without the cache of GMU, U of Mo and CHNM, and the grant-making organizations that fund the project, it would probably not have been as easy. In addition, there is a budget for permissions. Individuals would not fare so well within that system, or would have to curtail the content they use. On the other other hand, the web-based projects I have worked on have never been challenged as long as thumbnails of artworks (the main material I use) are put on the site, the original link is provided, and the museum or other org is credited next to the image or in a credits list. There, too, I have been fortunate. I will admit to not being terribly stringent, and daring organizations to challenge educational uses on the web. So far so good.
Where the real problems that the filmmakers and copyright rebels are pushing against is the stifling of commentary on contemporary life and art that corporate interests have won for themselves through copyright law. If I worked in that area, I would be frustrated to no end. Use of music is also a big issue that I have seldom run up against, but I can see it being a real wet blanket on creativity. The mention of “Happy Birthday” being copyrighted is truly shocking in the example of the Hoop Dreams film. Anything 3-year-olds sing has to be in the public domain, I would think, suggesting a new legal criterion for that.
My own digital story contains a whole array of images that could be under copyright. I am such a fledgling moviemaker, however, that I can’t imagine posting it anywhere, and besides, I would only use it in educational settings. The images, furthermore, are quite trivial. Is Osama bin Laden’s fuzzy video in the public domain? Is a photo of a TV playing the video under copyright? It seems unlikely that he would press me for copyright on his image…he has other things to worry about.

Category: Uncategorized
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
3 Responses
  1. mbergman says:

    Did you ever see the Mike Judge’s futuristic, dystopian satire “Idiocracy?”. The comedy is wildly uneven but Judge makes some great points in the film. People in the future receive monetary credit for adding “this message brought to you by (insert corporation)” into everyday conversation. Hopefully this extreme sense of ownership is not the direction we are headed….

  2. rsibaja says:

    “Without the cache of GMU, U of Mo and CHNM, and the grant-making organizations that fund the project, it would probably not have been as easy.”

    One of the largest obstacles to truly ground-breaking work, is the self-imposed expertise we associate with job titles, professional degrees, and institutions.

    Your comment is truly enlightening in many ways. I pitched several ideas as a high school teacher that would have produced some real good in the community, but I quickly realized that unless I could secure an association with a “reputable” organization or person (i.e. someone with an advanced degree)–my name as a high school teacher would not merit serious consideration.

    Fast forward some years later, and as a school system administrator I sensed a different world: my job title, and cheesy business card, were important enough to some people that I received numerous requests for interviews or partnerships. Never mind that my job contained absolute zero authority and power, but there was a perception that it was important. Same person, different job title.

    When I went back to the classroom again, I noticed the drop-off. As I talked to many of the same people (professors, lawmakers, administrators), my job title as classroom teacher carried little consideration on their part. I even received puzzling looks as to why I left an administrative job to return to teaching. I often wondered during that year if it was my own perception, my own insecurities, that painted a less rosy picture than what truly existed. Was I looking for negative responses? Today, I don’t think so. I realized, that if I wanted to both teach AND do some important community work, that a title like “Professor”, or a degree like a PhD , would open doors that “Teacher” and a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree laregely would not.

    That is sad. How many great ideas, that copyright laws are intended to protect, are being lost on the wayside because many creative minds chose a career path as a K-12 teacher? Sure, the impact lies in the classroom itself, but are our own self-imposed focus on “expertise”, job titles, and degrees, confining our best ideas to a classroom?

    Susan, your work benefited from being attached to GMU and CHNM, but what if your idea was submitted with an association to Fairfax High School, or Vienna Elementary? Is your idea less valuable? Would you have the same audience?

    The fear of being sued is a really damaging consequence of these copyright laws, and state lawmakers and officials who craft educational policy wind up handcuff educators who are willing to take bold risks to reach unengaged students. Hopefully, these administrators and officials should show some backbone-and knowledge!-of fair use/copyright laws to understand that a threat of legal action is simply that: a threat. The larger threat is to succumb to the culture of fear and litigation and lose a generation of students desperate for some authentic engagement in the classroom.