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.

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:

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:

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.

DIY Facebook Applications

Ever since Facebook opened up their platform to outside applications I have noticed that a number of services have developed tools for us non-programmers to create Facebook applications.

The one I read the most about was Dapper. ReadWriteWeb has a good post and short video about the service.

So I thought I’d give Dapper a try (also, I didn’t have time to commute to Stanford). I decided to create an application using a basic RSS feed from Google News. I tried to think about what ongoing news story I would want updated stories about in my Facebook profile. Of course I thought about the upcoming Rambo movie. So using the Google News feed I followed the simple steps laid out in Dapper’s AppMaker. A few minutes later I had created and published my first Facebook Application. At this point two strangers have added this application so I consider that a success. However you can’t officially add your creations to Facebook’s application directory until you have at least 5 users.


After I got this basic one out of the way I thought about how to create a library-themed one. Since I can’t create a technical wonder like the University of Alberta’s search application, I thought about a tool I would have appreciated during my periods of unemployment, a one-stop RSS feed that brought together the library technician job postings from various job boards.

The problem in creating such a tool is that few job boards provide an RSS feed. Again Dapper came to the rescue. All you have to do is enter in a URL and it can distill which content you want to track and create an RSS feed for.

Then I took the 6 different RSS feeds I had for library technician job postings and entered them into a new Yahoo Pipe. While creating a basic Pipe from multiple feeds is simple, the problem was that without filtering the results in some way, I was getting a final feed that included jobs for librarians, unrelated technical jobs and other off-topic postings.

The solution to this was to use the Filter tools provided. After much trial and error I ended up with the following Pipe:


Considering the fact that I was pulling out content from very different types of web pages I am quite happy with the final result. In order to track and continually refine this tool I have created a new page on my blog which will detail my progress and provide links to the Canadian Library Technician Jobs Facebook application and a separate RSS feed.

“A fair for all and no fare for anybody!”

In the ever shifting world of copyright and user-rights there have been some interesting developments over the last few weeks.

This New York Times article begins:

“A trade group that includes Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other high-tech companies has asked federal regulators to order changes in copyright warnings.”

It is the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s position that the strict (and somewhat fear-inducing) copyright warnings that content owners (NBC, NFL, etc.) are placing on their products are misleading consumers about their rights under fair use laws. Of course in Canada we have our fair dealing provisions but the basic principal is the same, regarding the question about whether content owners are overreaching in their efforts to protect their materials.

In an effort to bring more attention to this issue, an American professor has been going through an ongoing battle with the NFL over the use of a brief Superbowl clip she put up on YouTube.

A Wall Street Journal article also reports on this issue and mentions how it also applies to printed materials:

The CCIA said copyright holders should let audiences know they may have a right to reproduce some of the work. They even provide examples of how it can be done, as in this warning in the John Wiley & Son’s 2007 book “Hotel California.” The warning says, “No part of this publication may be reproduced…except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the United States Copyright Act,” referring to the sections that deal with fair use and reproduction by libraries and archives.

While the CCIA has some praise for how John Wiley & Sons provide a “fair and balanced” copyright warning they apparently don’t feel the same way about Reed Elsevier:

“A spokesman for Reed Elsevier PLC’s Harcourt Inc., one of the publishers named in the complaint, said he hadn’t seen it and declined to comment.”

It is interesting to see the group making this complaint includes Microsoft and Google, considering that a few months ago Microsoft was trying portray themselves as the righteous protectors of copyright compared to Google who they accuse of having a laissez-faire attitude to copyright violations on their services.

This article from IP Democracy and this one from Search Engine Land provide some interesting quotes and analysis that make you wonder how it is possible that these two companies are now working together on the issue of copyright. I suppose the answer can partly be summed up by a quote from the New York Times article above by law professor Roger Schecter:

“We’re getting into these fights because the law is lagging behind technology.”

Or to put it another way, digital media, copyright law and mutual self-interest make strange bedfellows.

Focusing on this issue from a library perspective, Howard Knopf at Excess Copyright mentions that the American based Library Copyright Alliance has come out in support of the CCIA’s efforts and mentions that:

“It would be really nice if Canadian libraries could more often take such strong, unified and useful positions on copyright matters.”

The issue of Canadian libraries/educational institutions and copyright can’t be discussed without bringing in our friend Access Copyright. The U of T Faculty Blog delves into this, claiming that a copyright warning Access Copyright requires schools to affix to material in coursepacks, “is highly inaccurate and misstates the law.”

Michael Geist mentions the novel idea of requiring that the cultural bodies that receive some-level of public funding should be required to use non-misleading copyright notices on their published works or they would not receive funding.

While Canadian institutions grudgingly accept Access Copyright’s role in overseeing usage of print-based materials, their is a wariness of allowing them to gain a foothold in the growing sphere of digital materials (online course reserves, course management systems, etc.).

This does mean that schools are responsible for contacting individual publishers for the use of their materials in an electronic format. Needless to say this is a labour intensive process that often leaves those requesting the use of the material frustrated.

It appears that the Copyright Clearance Center (the US version of Access Copyright) is moving ahead with an annual license for academic institutions that goes beyond the blanket paper-to-paper license most Canadian institutions have.

“Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. (CCC), the world’s largest provider of text-licensing solutions, today announced the launch of the Annual Copyright License for academic institutions, a single license that provides faculty and staff with convenient, pre-approved permissions to use content in course management systems, paper and electronic coursepacks, electronic library reserves, research collaboration and more.”

Some people raise the issue about whether signing on to agreements like this will lead to a weakening of efforts to maintain fair use rights.

The June 29, 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (password protected) about Middlebury Colleges’ partnership with the CCC in shaping this licensing product.

While the article has praise for how this license simplifies the copyright clearance process, this article from a California State University at Northridge paper points out how the gaps in the number of participating publishers means they currently are not interested in signing up for such a license.

For those of us stick in the middle of the tug-of-war between users and content providers there is some hope that steps are being taken to acknowledge the reality that in the digital age users want more flexibility with how they can use material they have paid for.

Miscellaneous presentations

If you’ve got about some time to spare you may want to check out David Weinberger’s talk at Google and his talk at Yahoo! about his new book “Everything is Miscellaneous”.

In these videos he gives a humorous and concise review of this history of taxonomy and how the rise in digital information leads to a questioning of the adherence to the Aristotelian approach of rigid, arbitrary classification and embracing the idea of classifying everything as miscellaneous and doing the sorting based on the attributes that matter to you.

Interesting points from the Google video include:

  • A funny critique of Melvil Dewey (20:00).
  • The tension between the main stream media, encyclopedias, etc. which make a constant effort to appear authoritative and completely subjective while new sources like Wikipedia allow the community to post notices within articles which suggest that they may have bias, use weasel words, etc. (44:30)
  • A review of faceted classification which uses the Endeca catalogue at NCSU as an example. (31:40)

In addition to the rough treatment given Mr. Dewey there are inevitably comments made about every-ones favorite beacons of information organisation, librarians. In the Yahoo! video the interviewer is Bradley Horowitz, their head of technology development. Being the hip, techno guy he is, he takes some sly digs at library types (11:40) referring to them as, “the last bastions of the old guard” and “neatniks”. Weinberger responds to this by saying that he does not see such a clear delineation between these two camps when it comes to how to go about approaching, sorting and classifying information in this new digital age.

Another one of Weinberger’s key points (Yahoo! 16:20) is the idea that with so much information coming in to us it has now become easier to collect everything than to take the time and labor to review/judge/rigidly classify the information that comes in (his example being all the pictures you may take on a digital camera) and figuring out what to delete. Along with this is the idea that you can never know when you or someone else may need the information you think you should delete.

I am struggling a bit with this since I signed up for a Gmail account. I kept looking for where you create the folders so I can nicely sort my emails in to nice defined piles. Now I have to get used to this idea of Labeling Mail and letting all the emails sit together in the All Mail box.

These videos also brought to mind the issue we often have with our library web site. I know we could provide much more details about various aspects of the library but we arbitrarily decide at what point a piece of information would have such a limited audience that we decide that the work needed to create it, keep it current etc. is not a good use of our limited time.

This push and pull between the power held by the traditional information brokers and the rising chorus of the user wanting a bigger say is going to continue to be interesting to be a part of.

One of us….One of us…

It appears that another institution is joining the Google Apps family.

As I mentioned in my maiden posting, a growing number of institutions are choosing to let Google handle all the software and hardware hassles of student email systems.

Now Humber College is set to join Lakehead as one of the Canadian schools jumping in to this brave new world.

Go to the following URL and see for yourself:

I have no doubt that students will find this service more familiar and functional than other options out there. But stories like this one remind us just how much personal information Google continues to store and no doubt uses for data mining purposes to keep those Google advertising dollars coming in.

There is also the issue that the personal information of students, their emails, etc. is being put in the hands of an American corporation. Google clearly states that Gmail emails are scanned in order to insert ads that roughly correspond to the content of the email.

They can state that:

No humans read your email to target the ads, and no email content or other personally identifiable information is ever provided to advertisers.

but we know that with “W” and “Mr. Cranky” in the White House, companies like Google are being pressured to hand over supposedly private material over to law enforcement in the name of national security.

Maybe in the near future some student will end up on a terrorist watch lists for something they write in their student email. I’ll admit my own ambivalence about whether this trend towards greater monitoring of our online activities makes me stay up at night or makes me sleep better.