Setting a questionable example

A fair amount of my time spent at work involves informing faculty and other staff about copyright issues and trying to ensure that the employees of the school avoid egregious violations of copyright.

A cloudy issue that often comes up is the in-class viewing and linking-to videos on YouTube. As we all know there is a vast amount of content that has been up-loaded there without the permission of the actual copyright holder (and YouTube’s owner is dealing with a major lawsuit due to this reality).

When faculty ask about linking to this content we advise them against it. Obviously there’s about a .0001% chance of the school getting in to any legal trouble by giving teachers cart blanche to link to whatever content they can find on the Internet. However, that isn’t really the point.

If pushed for a justification for our policies I would say, “how would you feel if some guy in his basement scanned a bunch of pages from a book you wrote and put it up on some site where anyone could view it, copy it, print it, etc.?” (this is obviously happening more and more).

In my mind that type of copying and distribution of someone else’s work is equivalent to someone taking a substantial portion of a TV show, movie, etc. and just uploading it to a service like YouTube.

Schools also spend a lot of time and effort creating policies for students to properly cite their sources, avoid plagiarism etc.

In my mind this message becomes muddled when I see examples like this from the North Metro Technical College library’s blog:

violating copyright

The blog entry embeds a YouTube video of the classic School House Rock video about the U.S. constitution. When you click on the link you see that it was uploaded by the immortal Dogboy2709. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that he is not the legitimate copyright holder of the video.

Of course you could argue that the writer of the entry thought the video would be educational/enjoyable for their audience and didn’t know it was uploaded without the proper permission. However, the authour admits:

“Someone has uploaded the School House Rocks version- which is very clever, easy to sing and probably violates copyright…”

So you admit it is likely a copyright violation for this video to be on YouTube. But you not only link to it, you embed it?

I know America has the DMCA which provides video sites like YouTube a lot of legal protection as long as they remove a video after they are alerted that it is an infringing copy. Even with the lack of any legal jeopardy, I don’t think this blog entry sets a particularly good example when it comes to respecting people’s intellectual property.

Follow up about Mygazines.com

Lat week I wrote about the site Mygazines.com that appeared to have just about every popular magazine under the sun available to read for free:

Uhhhh…isn’t this like illegal?

There’s an article from Cnet that goes in to some more details about why this site, who existence seems to run counter to every copyright law I can think of, is still up and running.

It seems our good friends at the PRQ are keeping it up and running and given their propensity for wanting to “stick it to the man”, the site will likely be there for some time.

I can’t condone going to the site to check out the new issue of Maxim with Anna Kournikova on the cover but I can imagine there are some people out there who will.


Uhhhh….isn’t this like illegal?

I came across the site Mygazines a few days ago.

From my experience working on copyright issues I can’t understand how it has not been flooded with takedown notices.

The site appears to consist of hundreds of popular magazines, scanned from cover-to-cover. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that this is being done without the permission of the actual publishers of the magazines.

Looking at the Contact Us section I see no information about an actual address, phone number, etc. I’m guessing the site’s servers may be located in some Baltic republic or other former Soviet satellite state which tend to take a “relaxed” standard to copyright law.

If no one tries to take the site down, libraries may be able to save a lot of money on periodical subscriptions. At least on the popular magazines, I haven’t been able to locate any of the dry, peer-reviewed journals we academic libraries are known for.

I must admit that the temptation to read the latest issue of Mojo (without paying for it) is hard to resist but the existence of sites like this make it harder for us copyright cops to tell faculty they need permission to upload a scan of a Ziggy cartoon to their Blackboard page.

One thing you’ll probably never see in a Canadian library

Users in my library could use a machine like this.

But the copyright police would probably have machines like this destroyed at the border.

Thanks Jim Prentice!

Images In Vogue

One of my main duties at work is helping ensure that faculty and staff are following proper procedures when it comes to the use of copyrighted materials.

Given the ease with which people are sharing/re-mixing/stealing all manner of content these days, I believe faculty and staff are surprised when we tell them that some of the activities they are taking part in are in violation of the school’s copyright policy.

One of the most common sources of surprise involves the Google Image Search. Faculty are constantly looking for the quickest source of images for PowerPoint, to upload to Blackboard, etc. Needless to say they are often able to find the perfect image through a service that indexes over a billion web pages.

If a teacher was looking for crayfish images they tend to turn to Google and I’m sure the majority simply use the images they find in a number of ways. But for those poor souls who ask for our guidance we have to tell them that all those images are in no way owned by Google. They are simply providing thumbnail size versions of images that they scrape from all the sites they index. Without trying to explain them to them the intricacies of Perfect 10 vs. Google we tell them they need to go to the actual site the image comes from and check their Terms of Use document to see if they can use it for educational purposes.

As an aside, I’m aware I might be sounding hypocritical given that I’ve just uploaded this screen shot of a Google page (with a number of copyrighted images within it, yikes!) without any formal permission but my work duties mean I have to help ensure that the college is never accused of copyright infringement (sorry Georgia State). As an individual I am more than happy to push back against restrictive interpretations of copyright law.

We are doing are best to instruct college employees about the wealth of material that can be found with Creative Commons licenses. Pushing them in this direction helps ensure respect for copyright and saves me time from having to send out a bunch of permission requests.


While I find the flickr search tool adequate most of the time, I think the less tech savvy find it lacking (few results per page, interpreting the various licenses, etc.)

ReadWriteWeb mentioned a new flickr search tool called compfight that I’m very impressed with. The most obvious feature is the large number of image previews it brings up when you do a search.

There are number of other features that make it so useful. By clicking the text with blue font on the main screen you can:

  • Choose to search for pictures with Creative Commons licenses and for ones with specific types of licenses (commercial use, etc.)
  • By clicking the black button by the search box you can search the text supplied alongside the image or just search the specific tags applied to it.

Of course searches on a user-generated site has its limitations. If a teacher is looking for an image that shows the nervous system of a crayfish (do they even have one?) chances are it won’t be found in flickr. But many times they want fairly generic images and the more tools like compfight make searching for copyright flexible material the easier it will be to get school employees to buy-in when it comes to respect for copyright.

And I can have more time to read my RSS feeds.

Friday at the OLA Super Conference 2008

After being exhausted from trying to handle two days at my first OLA Super Conference (1, 2) I decided that one day was enough this year.

So I braved the Toronto snow storm on Friday and made my way down to the Metro Convention Centre.

Session 1009 – Google: The New Library Vendor
This session was given by Greg Sennema from Wilfred Laurier. The OCULA blog gives a good description of the talk. I saw his session about WordPress last year and again he put together a very solid presentation. Having a keen interest in all things Google, I must admit I already knew about some of the topics he touched on such as iGoogle and Custom Search Engines. However, his main point in showing some of the new tools Google is creating was to ask the question about how they will effect the services libraries provide in the short and long-term. A thought provoking idea he mentioned was whether projects like Google Books (scanning all of the books in libraries like the University of Michigan, etc.) will replace the traditional delivery of ILL. While the full-text of copyrighted books are not being provided to the public through Google Books, you can imagine that in the future that various universities that are part of the Google Books project may come together to provide full-text access to each others’ user communities, thereby making all the staff time and cost of traditional ILL irrelevant. I’m sure the copyright-owner lobbyists may have an objection or two to this however.

Session 1100 – Slow in the age of speed
This presentation by Carl Honore, author of “In Praise Of Slow“, inspired me to try and make more time to nap in my office. I’ll report back on how my supervisor feels about this effort to be more productive.

Session 1204 – The Kids Are Alright, Or are They?
Any session named after a Who song has to be good. The content of this very interesting talk is summarized well on the OCULA blog. I’m already an avowed Mohawk Library fanboy so it was interesting see and hear from two of the schools’ main librarians. I think the lovely (and award winning) Jennifer commented on my post back in the day. They talked about how educators, library people, etc. are inundated with the idea that today’s students (millenials, etc.) have all these specific characteristics (naturally tech-savy, able to do their homework while listening to their iPods, have differently wired brains, spend all their time in Second Life, etc.) so we must change the ways we instruct and interact with them. They talked about how these claims did not always square with their experiences at the reference desk. I know how they feel. Seeing students struggle with Microsoft Office documents that open inside WebCT and not knowing how to print them, I question the theory that because a kid plays World Of Warcraft all day that he somehow becomes a savant at how various software systems interact.

The speakers did a great job at peaking behind some of the research the Mark Prensky’s of the world use to back up their claims and showing the lack of solid scholarship at the heart of much of it. I knew I recognized that name when they mentioned it and I remembered that I did a copyright request for the use of some of his materials. Hopefully the department I did the request for isn’t basing all their plans on Prensky’s work.

All in all, an excellent example of evidenced based librarianship. Check out the blog they created for their research: http://kidsarealright.wordpress.com/

Session 1318 – Scholar’s Portage. Avoiding the Waterfall: Leveraging Social Networking Tools And Scholars Portal Data
Come 3:45pm on a snowy day, the third day of the conference, people are naturally getting a little tired. Add to this a session that some people may consider a little on the ‘dry’ side and it added up to a sparsely attended event. Luckily I dig ‘dry’ and throw in a cute librarian who’s really into music giving the presentation so I found the session very worthwhile. While it has very little effect on my duties I am always curious about what exactly Scholars Portal is and what the future plans are for this joint effort of Ontario’s universities. The speakers gave some interesting insights into what they do now and were open about their thinking process in trying to decide how to evolve their services in a way that truly is a benefit to their users and not just Library 2.0 applications for the sake of Library 2.0. As usual I’m doing a lousy job of describing the session so here is:

Conclusion
All in all it was another very well organized event with interesting speakers and topics. My only complaint was the lack of a free pen in my conference package. Also I can’t really be seen carrying around a bag covered in butterflies so I had to give the conference bag away to my Mom. I also forgot to see if Access Copyright was giving away free mints again this year. There’s always next year.

Stop Snitchin’

I came across an interesting article from the September 7th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The article, The First Close Look at Colleges’ Digital Pirates, (complete article behind paywall) details a joint venture of Illinois State University and the “entertainment industry” to:

give both the university and the entertainment industry a detailed snapshot of music and movie piracy on a typical college campus.”

This venture is called the Digital Citizen Project, and the main feature of the project was that:

the university opened up its campus network, collecting never-before-seen data on what files students were swapping and how they share them“.

My initial reaction when scanning the article was that Illinois State had abandoned its traditional role as an educational institution and it had decided to capitulate and surrender to the rapacious need of the RIAAs and MPAAs of the world to hunt down and sue college students.

Recently more voices have been calling on schools to resist what they see as unreasonable intrusions by the likes of the RIAA. See, Universities to RIAA: Take a Hike from the Berkman Center and this op-ed from the Harvard Crimson.

And most shocking of all was the fact that I read that a Cheryl A. Elzy, Dean of Libraries was helping to lead this effort. A librarian! I can imagine librarian groups like Library Juice would find it abhorrent that a librarian would become a tool of the corporate elites.

I also questioned why a librarian would be given such a key role in what I consider more of an IT issue. If students are using school property (computers, bandwith etc.) to trade pirated copies of movies and music then I would assume IT would be the ones to track it, curtail it etc.

And as the Chronicle article states, this project:

“did not sit well with some of Illinois State’s technology officers. Some IT-staff members worried that the industry group would start trying to tinker with the campus network. Others were just reluctant to turn their network into a testing ground.”

Answers to some of my questions came after I did a little more digging. In government Subcommittees and Committee hearings, Ms. Elzy does a rather eloquent job of providing the reasons the university and she herself became involved in the Digital Citizen Project. In regards to how her role as a librarian makes her the right person to be involved in this project she stated:

But why a librarian? Why not a Chief Information Officer or some other technology expert? Why is a librarian the campus DMCA agent? To us at Illinois State University the answers to all those questions make perfect sense. The four project leaders for Illinois State’s Digital Citizen Project represent diverse perspectives. We have an academic CIO, a student technology director, a library dean, and a nationally known technology consultant. My operation interprets literally dozens of copyright questions almost daily. Copyright expertise on my campus, and on a lot of campuses across the country, is most intensively developed in the library. While copyright protects intellectual property, it is my library’s job to put that property, that information, into the hands of the students, teachers, researchers, and casual readers who need it. Technology is only a means to an end in a whole lot of ways. Illegal peer-to-peer downloading is NOT a technology problem. It doesn’t have a “technology” solution. It is about legal access to materials or information resources. It is connecting users with the right tools. It is education and changing behaviors. How we do that is what we have been exploring for the past eighteen months and will describe for you today.

I like that she clearly stated to the elected officials that the issue of illegal downloading does not have a perfect technology-based solution and that if groups like the RIAA want today’s generation of students to show greater respect for copyright then they have to ensure their member groups make their music, movies, etc. more readily available when and where people want to use them.

One issue I have with this Digital Citizen Project is that while the Chronicle article clearly details how much of the funding comes from the entertainment industry, I can’t seem to find any details of this on the DCP web site itself. (I may just not be clicking on the right page however). By not making this details very clear on the web site they may give the impression that they are trying to hide the extent to which the entertainment industry is involved in such a seemingly invasive peek into the inner workings of a university’s communication infrastructure.

And finally, I’m feeling pretty unhip that I think I’ve only heard about 2 of the songs from the 50 Most Popular Downloaded Songs at Illinois State.