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Written by David on August 4th, 2009.      0 comments

I am reading a fascinating book called ‘Born Digital - Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.’  I know that the distinction digital native and digital immigrant is problematic for some, but this book is discussing what our world may look like when its movers and shakers is made up of the generation that have grown up online, the ‘Digital Natives’ of the title.

I am currently reading the ‘Creators’ chapter in which the authors are discussing the re-mix or mash up culture of the Internet.  One of the themes that has struck a chord as I am reading is the whole notion of copyright, especially how that may impact upon schools.  The authors cite fan fiction as an example and the Harry Potter fan fiction site in particular.  When the book was published the HP fan fiction site had 45, 000 fan fiction submissions on it, each one technically a copyright infringement, yet the creators are  not intentionally setting out to make money from their endeavours or intentionally infringe the copyright of Boomsbury press or J K Rowling.  To their credit the copyright holders have not taken any action, but legally they could.

Most teachers would be delighted to have students willingly write so much, so enthusiastically, yet that very act is a copyright infringement, especially if this re-mixed content is shared online in any form.    Schools are increasingly using blogs, wikis and all manner of web 2.0 applications to display and give authenticity to their students work, it is very likely that some of that content will infringe copyright.  Schools are in a world of grey, and someone is going to fall foul of this in the near futre and I fear be held to account, very publicly.

So what does this mean? In his video, Michael Wesch



cautions us that we will have to re-think copyright, amongst many other things as a result of the societal impact of the Internet. Until that time comes schools and particularly students will have to be extraordinarily careful about the content they put online. It seems that copyright holders are starting to exert their muscle while they can as they too acknowledge a shifting copyright environment.  Recent court cases in the US that have severely financially penalised a single parent and a student for their file sharing activities illustrate this point.  Interestingly the initial upload in each case was minimal, but the frequency of the downloads, i.e. its popularity is what incurred the highest financial penalty, yet the individual downloaders were not penalised, yet.

For me what these cases indicate is a hardening of attitude to copyright infringement by individuals and this is something that schools need to be particularly alert to.  I suspect that many schools and teachers have long taken a fairly laisez faire view of copyright.  Furthermore I suspect that many of them justify their actions by  reasoning that as a non commercial, educational (AKA penniless) institution, copyright holders might cut them some slack, I think that the above examples would now emphatically burst that particular bubble.

In New Zealand the proposed amendment to section 92a of the 1994 Copyright Act has seemingly been defeated, a deeply un-popular three strikes and you are out policy, but the issue has not gone away.  Policy makers are seeking submissions to ensure that the amendment becomes a workable model for ISP’s to police the surfing activities of their customers.  For New Zealand schools the issue of copyright infringement has come a lot closer to home.  Your ISP will soon be policing the activities of your users and holding you liable for their infringements.

What it comes down to is the clash of two models of ownership.  The ‘Digital Natives’ of the book have a more fluid view of ownership and copyright.  At this time, the re-mixers have no problems with their stuff being re-used, re-mixed, re-published and they have been incredibly busy!  The death of the high street music store, the decline in traditional retail sales of music, the ease with whichvideo can now be distributed etc has severely dented the income model of the traditional copyright owners.  Technology is killing their income stream;  the copyright holders are having to re-think their business models and at the same time watch their copyrighted material move effortlessly around the cloud without any financial gain to them.  The model has to change as Michael Wesch says we will have to re-think a few things, in the meantime re-mixers and especially schools, beware.




David has been a specialist in the field of elearning for over 12 years. He has presented on elearning at conferences in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. His consultancy work includes education and business clients. READ MORE


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