Saturday, November 15, 2008

Doug Johnson's Call to Arms

I have a confession to make. I spent the last year acting like the copyright police. Oh my intentions were good. As a teacher, I spent years grabbing whatever I needed, copyright-be-damned. Once in library school, where copyright laws and our need to enforce them were pounded into our head, I emerged with the fiery passion of the newly converted.

But it was an uneasy fit, and I was never really comfortable telling teachers what they could and couldn't do. Moreover, as I taught my new film studies class, with students eager to create video mash-ups, I struggled between my desire to encourage their creativity and my role as policeman.

Yesterday, Doug Johnson set me free.

I've read his copyright views before, but he gave an eloquent and convincing presentation yesterday attacking one of library's "sacred cows," copyright enforcement. In his words, "Our job is to counsel, not enforce laws."

I have slowly been coming to this conclusion myself, to a belief that we must push the boundaries of fair use, not cower timidly within the safety of its borders. (I'm really mixing my metaphors here, aren't I?) As Johnson stated, we must focus not on what's forbidden, but on what's permitted, and always with the needs of our students and faculty foremost. After all, the school pays my salary, not Disney.

So I think I've finally hit a comfortable middle of the road position. I no longer practice my copyright version of eminent domain, grabbing whatever I think I need, but I'm not the copyright Gestapo, either.

Doug's simple rule of thumb? If it's transformative, if it uses the work for purposes other than those originally intended, it's fair use.

Sounds good to me.

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