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About Manuel Herranz

Traditional scholarship now enjoys unprecedented access to source materials as well as digital distribution methods. In place of the book and the journal article, printed on paper with months of lead time and mailed to libraries, scholarly work is increasingly presented online. This permits: More convenient access e. Institutions enlighten the general public by using digital technology to make the educational content they create or control available to a much broader audience: MIT OpenCourseware makes materials used in courses taught at MIT available online, while the LionShare project at Penn State has created a peer-to-peer filesharing system designed to help university users find academic content housed at other institutions; New World Records, a nonprofit record label specializing in underappreciated composers, has established a Database of Recorded American Music for use in universities also the subject of a more detailed case study found in section 2.

All of these diverse examples illustrate the potential that digital learning has to transform education. The case studies discussed in section 2 provide more specific detail, both about this promise and about the problems that the copyright system presents.


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In order to lay the groundwork for that discussion, some basic explanation of copyright law is necessary. These include, among others, the right to reproduce, distribute, display, or perform the work. This flowchart by Professor Timothy K. Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati provides some greater detail about the notoriously complex calculation of copyright duration.

The most commonly cited rationale for granting such strong rights is the desire to furnish incentives to create original work. By granting legal protection against copying and other unauthorized exploitation of the work, copyright seeks to ensure that creators and distributors of works reap the monetary rewards flowing from their efforts.

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The availability of these rewards, in turn, should stimulate further creative work. Without copyright, others might easily copy a work of authorship and never pay its originators for it. Digital technology and the accompanying ability to make perfect copies of content have further increased this feature of intellectual property. In practice, the creator of a work often licenses or transfers some or all of these rights to other entities such as publishers, universities, record companies, or periodicals who then may enforce the rights themselves.

Similarly, when creators die, their heirs typically inherit whatever rights they retained. The owner of a copyright can sue others who infringe on the exclusive rights covered during its term. The most basic sort of infringement is copying or distribution of a work without permission of the rightsholder. Of course, rightsholders do not have unlimited power to control all potential use of content. The very purpose of the copyright system is to ensure that public discourse is enriched by creative work, and this purpose would be thwarted by excessive control.

Since its very beginnings, therefore, copyright law has sought to strike the appropriate balance between preserving rewards for creators of works and therefore incentives for creation and fostering subsequent uses of that content. Some of the most fundamental elements of copyright law support this balance. So, for instance, copyright does not confer any control over facts or ideas, only the particular expression of those facts or ideas in a work.

As a result, a historian can sue someone who copies the language she used to describe events, but not the underlying raw information. Copyright also confers control only over the intangible creative content of a work, not the physical object that houses content such as a book or CD. Congress and the courts have also fashioned a number of exceptions allowing uses of content notwithstanding the exclusive rights granted to creators.

Not surprisingly, given the centrality of education to the purpose of the copyright regime, many of these exceptions apply to educational uses of content. The fair use doctrine is the most famous of these. Broadly speaking, fair use allows certain limited uses of content for purposes that further public discourse, such as comment, criticism, and parody; the doctrine is explained in more detail below in section 3.

A set of educational use exceptions, explored further in section 3. Whether or not these exceptions are effective, especially in the context of digital learning, is another matter.

By whatever name, DRM systems are encoded into digital content by a variety of means, such as encryption or watermarking, so that users are incapable of accessing or using the content in a manner that the rightsholder wishes to prevent. Sometimes, as in the case with most commercially distributed DVDs, the DRM system simply aims to prevent all copying indiscriminately. There are very limited exceptions to liability under the DMCA, but notably they do not include any defense based on an assertion of applicable exceptions under copyright law, such as fair use.

Defendants who have a fair use right to reproduce content do not thereby have a defense if they must circumvent a DRM system to gain access to that content. Consequently, educators are potentially vulnerable to civil or even criminal penalties if they interfere with whatever technological restrictions rightsholders choose to impose on the use of content. This section summarizes the four case studies completed as part of research for this white paper.

More detailed versions of each study are also available as separate documents. Each of the digital learning efforts described here is moving forward despite obstacles presented by legal rules, institutional structures, and market forces. The educators involved in these case studies have devoted hard work and accepted compromise. They are fighting against a copyright-related system that instead should be helping them accomplish their goals. As part of this mission, CHNM is planning an online social networking service that will allow elementary and secondary school teachers to communicate across distances and provide mutual professional support.

The Indo-European Connection

CHNM recognized early on that one of the features in such a network that users will find most desirable is the opportunity for teachers who have developed successful classroom resources to share them with their colleagues. Through such a system, a teacher who had created, say, an excellent PowerPoint presentation about early African cultures, or media coverage of the Vietnam War, could allow other teachers around the country to use it.

CHNM has been forced to curtail its plans for a resource exchange component of the network because of the risk of secondary liability for copyright infringement. CHNM fears, not unreasonably, that teachers might use the network to post resources that include content from other sources in a manner which infringes copyrights.

The hypothetical PowerPoints named above, for example, might incorporate a recording of early African music or the famous photo of Vietnamese children fleeing napalm. Because both are likely copyrighted, CHNM must take care not to be held secondarily liable for their distribution by users of the network.

Ironically, copyright law does not prohibit teachers who create such a resource from showing it in their own classes, even if it contains copyrighted content. In general, the educational use exceptions in copyright law, particularly those in section of the statute [further explained in section 3. Furthermore, the fair use doctrine [further explained in section 3. The problem arises only when the teachers who create such a resource distribute it to other teachers for use in their classrooms.


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  • The act of distribution likely falls outside the scope of the educational use and fair use exceptions to liability. The British Library, for example, which owns the copyright to the African music recording in the above hyperlink, makes this limitation explicit in its copyright statement. CHNM still plans to include a lesson-swapping function in the History Teachers Network, but will forbid users from sharing any copyrighted material and will present a strongly-worded warning at the upload point not to do so.

    CHNM will also take other precautions, such as providing access only to users affiliated with school districts, establishing notice-and-takedown procedures in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and posting disclaimers. Teachers who originally developed lessons for use in their own classrooms had no reason to attend to the copyright status of content, and so they are likely to be unsure whether they can upload these resources.

    Organizers at CHNM are also concerned that dire-sounding copyright warnings will discourage teachers from submitting resources that would in fact be legal to distribute. For example, a teacher might have created a presentation incorporating material that, while not in the public domain, carries the permission of the rightsholder to copy and distribute for educational purposes such as a Creative Commons noncommercial use license. Or the teacher might have used scientific data that, because it is factual and not creative, is not entitled to copyright protection.

    Teachers are not copyright experts and will be reluctant to make the judgments necessary to ascertain whether uploading is permitted. CHNM fears that users of the system will exercise undue caution when they make conscientious efforts to heed warnings about copyright infringement.

    The Lithuanian Language in the Digital Age

    The result: a wealth of valuable, creative educational materials that could be used legally by the teachers who originally designed them will not benefit additional children in other schools. The lessons with African music recordings or photos from the Vietnam War cannot be distributed to peer teachers under the current copyright regime. The greatest value of such resources lies precisely in the integration of rich source material with educational content that explains and analyzes it.

    That value is lost in most cases.

    Europe's Languages in the Digital Age - A language learners’ forum

    This case study illustrates one of the most difficult issues raised by digital technology: how can the interests of teachers and learners to use content flexibly be reconciled with the need to preserve reasonable incentives for creators and distributors of content? While adhering to prior law developed in an analog context foregoes many potential benefits of digitization, removing all limits would go too far in the other direction. As in all of our case studies, CHNM has found a way to move forward with a more limited version of its original plans.

    A recent addition to the academy, film studies applies the techniques of established disciplines, including psychoanalysis, literary studies, and linguistics, to examine the art of cinema. Though a small group of intellectuals recognized the significance of film as a medium for artistic expression in the early twentieth century, film studies did not surface as an accepted area of scholarship until the s.

    In the decades since, the popularity of film studies has spread dramatically, so that dozens of colleges and universities now offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in film studies, and many more offer courses in the field. Technological advancement, including development of the DVD, has fueled this growth.

    Research Departments and Groups

    And with the emergence of cinema as a crucial element of modern culture, film studies is certain to continue to develop as an important area of scholarly endeavor. One of the most common means for professors to teach students about film is to show a series of excerpts from different movies that illustrate a common point. For example, a professor may wish to screen clips from different films that use a certain camera angle to produce a particular visual effect. Film studies professors also present and discuss relevant clips from assigned works during lecture, just as literature professors examine novels in class by reading important passages out loud.

    Digital technology should also enhance the ability for students to have access to clips for homework or other study outside of class, either online or through distributed DVDs.