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.