The Legal Quicksand of the Internet

Let Common Sense Prevail!

The title of this week’s post is appropriate as I feel as though I am sinking and am just barely keeping my head above the surface.  This is a busy life!

Anyway, this title comes from one of this week’s content choices in EC&I 832.  The content for this block was presented as  a ‘choose your own adventure’ of sorts, and was divided into three choices:  one on information literacy in a digital world, another – a discussion of multi-literacies, and the third – about legal issues, copyright, and ethics of Internet use.  I browsed through much of the content for each of the three ‘adventures’ and found that each presented great resources about important issues to be considered as educators further implement web technologies in their classrooms.  Choosing the block about copyright and legal issues was relatively a ‘no-brainer’ for me.  This is a topic that I have been following and reflecting for some time, and I may have some strong opinions about. {Here is my original post on the topic.}

There are some truly great resource for teaching young people about copyright, copyleftlegal issues, plagerism (more), creative commons, and using images.  Perhaps the best resources on these topic are the following TED Talks video clips.

In this TED Talk, Larry Lessig, the Net’s most celebrated lawyer, argues against current copyright practices.  He discusses the point that today’s legal issues of ownership of knowledge is strangling our creative culture.  Although he states that neither extreme – complete control vs. piracy – is correct, he is essentially making an argument for creative commons licenses.

Another great video resource for this discussion is Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ TED Talk in which he explains the social methodologies and power of user generated content.

In today’s digital world in which the Web is compiled of user-generated content, the debate over copy protection has never been more heated.  Essentially what we have here is a debate over extremes of a copy protection spectrum, much like that of a political spectrum.

One one extreme there is copyright law, protection and ownership of creations and knowledge, complete control; “All Rights Reserved.”  On the other extreme there is copyleft.  There is piracy and plagerism; no control; no rights reserved.  In Larry Lessig’s TED Talk, he makes the point that one extreme begets the other.  A world of the extreme right, in which there is complete control of copy protection creates a reaction from the extreme left in which there is no respect for any copy protection rights and plagerism and piracy is rampant.  Such extremes and reactions exist in today’s digital world, and neither extreme is right.  Neither extreme displays any common sense.

Today’s youth have grown up immersed in media content.  Many of them have had digital technologies at their fingertips for much of their lives; many are ‘digital natives’.  Lessig talks about this generation as the ‘remix’ generation; who communicate by remixing and editing previously created content.  “This is how they communicate,” he emphasizes.  “They take sounds and images from the culture around us and use it to say things differently… These tools of creativity have become tools of speech.  It is a literacy for this generation, this is how our kids speak.  It is how our kids think, it is what your kids are as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationship to themselves.”  I know this to be true [and Lessig makes me feel young] as I am part of this ‘remix’ generation.  This blog, and just about anything else that I use to communicate, could be seen as an example of such remixing.  I am a visual thinker, and today’s tech tools allow me to create meaning and to communicate messages by reorganizing the Internet’s media content in new ways, to make new ideas.  This is a new literacy.

Let common sense prevail.  The viewpoints of the extreme right of the scale shows a complete lack of common sense in this digital age.  Views that state that permission must be granted before an image found on the Internet can be used are absolutely ridiculous and completely out of touch with modern reality.  Such rules make a great portion of the Internet’s use illegal.   We are already beyond the read/write stage of the Internet’s history, and are well into an age that would be better describes as the read/re-write age.  The majority of the re-writing, re-working, and re-creating that exists is completely innocent, and is not to be confused with piracy.  It is merely a new form of communication, a more visual, media enriched, and to-the-point reworking of existing content.

Let common sense prevail.  Here is a quote from ‘Net Know How, a resource used to educate young people about copy ethics.  “In this digital age, it is very easy to copy photos and illustrations from the ‘Net.  In fact, it is a process we discover when we “right-click” our computer’s mouse.  However, we must observe the same copyright compliance given to written property.”  This is an example of Lessig’s point that copy protection laws are strangling communication and creativity.  Common sense must prevail here.  Common sense should tell you that a vast majority of the images that are available on the internet have absolutely no commercial value, and as such, will get very little protection.  The truth is that the copy protection laws are in place for two main purposes;  “namely the protection of the author’s right to obtain commercial benefit from valuable work, and more recently the protection of the author’s general right to control how a work is used. …if the work is unregistered and has no real commercial value, it gets very little protection.”

As an artist, and a teacher of visual communication, I do value copyright.  The most important part of copyright is that it seeks to protect the creator’s right to control how a work is used.  This is very important.  However, I also value common sense.  On his page, 10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained, Brad Templeton writes that, “If you feel you need to violate a copyright “because you can get away with it because the work has no value” you should ask yourself why you’re doing it.  If your answer to this that you are attempting to illustrate a point, that you are continuing the dialogue, or that you are merely communicating or expressing yourself or your freedom of speech, the let common sense prevail.   Common sense should relate ‘no harm – no foul’.