Conventions of Copyright


This week’s readings focused on copyright, and the ever-important implications for teachers utilizing digital and multimodal writing. My picture is indicative of the fear and angst with which I approach copyright, and the threat of dire consequences should I violate it (sounds a lot like plagiarism, right?). Luckily, the Fair Use clause frees teachers from many concerns about citing images, clips, and other technically copyrighted material, but can Fair Use really be used as a catch-all like that? It feels lazy. If the same standard were applied to alphabetic text, plagiarism would hardly be an issue in our classrooms. These are just some of the questions that me and my colleague asked as we facilitated class this Tuesday. I’ll provide some of my own thoughts here. 

According to one of our authors, “the more knowledge of the law, the more possibilities, variables, and probabilities come into view. The more tool-like copyright law becomes, as opposed to rule-like, the more a user might feel able to push and pull on that tool” (Rife). Our class discussed the meaning of “possibilities” in this quote. We determined that considering copyright could encourage us to find different solutions to our texts. For example, taking our own pictures to use in a blog post rather than having to worry about citing someone else’s image. We talked about going through Creative Commons for images, and how even that is not foolproof (it often links to Flickr, most of which is copyrighted). We talked about remixing songs in Garage Band rather than worrying about how many seconds of someone else’s song to use. We also talked about how to get our students to think about copyright as they compose digitally. One of the best ways to introduce copyright is to visit YouTube and pull up one of the thousands of videos that have been removed by YouTube administrators for copyright violations. 

I wanted to talk about Internet memes in class, but discussion never provided a good opportunity, so I’ll put my thoughts here. It is somehow appropriate to take a copyrighted image and put text over it, generating mass quantities of memes that are circulated on any number of sites (Tumblr, Imgur, Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, Reddit, etc.). What exempts those images from copyright? Sometimes, it’s the context of a certain website. For example, users on Tumblr are familiar with the “reblog” feature that enables mass sharing of posts. If a Tumblr blogger posts original content, zi expects it to circulate with the reblog feature, thus taking away copyright. However, if someone uses a Tumblr post outside the context of Tumblr (in a research paper, for example),  zi is expected to cite it according to the original poster, which requires a trace through, sometimes, thousands of reblogs. 

How are we, or our students, supposed to know the expectations of all websites and media sources out there? I don’t think we are, and that’s why we should look at copyright as a tool, instead of a steadfast set of rules implicating consequences for violation (like the “Big C” of my photo). Thinking about copyright and citation can either incite fear, or inspire creativity, and that’s your choice! 


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