Information on the web is free for anyone to use. That’s what I’ve heard students say from time to time. It is relatively easy to debunk that myth by discussing creator’s rights under copyright law.
What’s more challenging is helping faculty identify that same principle: we know there’s a a copyright law. We know there’s an exception to that law called fair use. What is more difficult is to determine whether our conduct fits within the definition of fair use.In the article Have College Professors Become Digital Pirates?, Andrew Chow, J.D., discusses this very issue. Universities and faculty have been sued for including copyrighted material in e-reserves, for copying videos from film to digital format (UCLA won that one) and for digitizing books. As the article notes, there are several factors courts consider in determining whether a use constitutes fair use, including the purpose and type of use, the amount of use and the potential impact copying would have on the market. Many Universities devote websites to assisting faculty (and students) determine fair use (see e.g. the Copyright Clearance Center’s Checklist).
This does raise a question I’ve raised before: shouldn’t copyright law be changed to address the new ways information is made available? Shouldn’t videos, as digital information, be priced differently? Should copyright law be changed to make it easier for educators to use copyrighted information in the interests of furthering knowledge? I consider it a great compliment if someone uses what I’ve created (it’s still a rare occurrence, though!). I would like acknowledgement, so others can find and use it, but feel no obligation to chase after someone who used what I created.
Would I feel differently if that someone was not an educator, but a corporation that made money from my work? Probably-I’d expect that corporation to provide me some compensation, that way we could both share in the profit made. More importantly, though, my work, my words, what I’ve developed, has not been developed in isolation. I have stood on the shoulders of giants to get where I am today. So, I am happy to share and help others learn.