Larry Lessig – Law, Leadership and Aaron Swartz

This is Larry Lessig, speaking at Harvard Law School as he accepts the Chair as Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership. As Dean Martha Minnow says at the end of Larry’s speech, this is a Chair in Law AND LEADERSHIP, and she can think of no better person to be sitting in it. If you take the time to watch this speech, and you should, then I’m sure you will have no doubt that Martha’s words are true.

I knew nothing of Aaron Swartz until after his death. I wish I’d known of him before. He took his life on January 11th, at the age of 26, after being indicted for 13 counts by the United States Government after writing a script to download files from Jstor and store them on his computer hard drive after accessing an open cupboard serving as a server room at MIT and hardwiring his computer to it. He presumably had the intent of making them accessible to all, instead of being trapped behind a paywall system. A paywall system that means for the bulk of the population, these academic articles, funded by taxpayer money,  are inaccessible to most of us, and accessible only to those who frequent institutions who pay the licensing fees guaranteeing you access. A recent article in the New Republic, provides speculation as to why Aaron may have decided to take this course.

In the last 20 minutes of this speech, Larry questions the state of things in the United States and asks “Is the United States America anymore?” An America where people who think differently, as Aaron did, are challenged by the Government instead of being supported for their divergent thinking. Divergent thinking that might actually make our world a better place for those who are not the monied elite and don’t have the financial means to advance themselves. My empathy qoutient is raised in this regard; I benefited from a free Higher Education model the Australian Government used to endorse and I’m convinced it provided me with a pathway to further education that may not have been realised without it.

Larry Lessig is obviously deeply impacted by Aaron’s death. There are moments in this speech where I wondered how he could continue, but continue he did, and his words are a more than fitting tribute to a young man who had ideals way beyond those who write code to power  networks that provide people with opportunities for connection, but make them millions of dollars in the process. I saw Tim Berners Lee speak in Melbourne earlier this month and a large portion of his speech was dedicated to Aaron. Like Larry, he had known Aaron since his teenage years and like Larry, it was apparent that his untimely death had deeply affected him.

You may not be able to find a way to share the full contents of this speech with the students you teach, but if a moment presents itself, try and find a way to share Aaron’s story, and use the last 20 minutes of the speech with them. What Larry is positing it that we need more people like Aaron, and more people (and lawyers) willing to step up and do what is right. Larry shares with the audience that he was often seen as Aaron’s mentor, but in fact he saw himself as Aaron’s mentee. Aaron once questioned him on one of their many subjects of interest and Larry’s reply was met with, “yes, as an academic, but what as a citizen?” It’s a question that Larry says will help him to continue to fight what seem impossible fights. Fights like ‘dumb copyright’ that deny people the right to the benefits of academic research funded by taxpayer dollars.

It’s the moral compasses we set for ourselves that make our world a better place to live in. Aaron’s death will hopefully leave a legacy where those who think different, those who think for the good of the whole, will become champions and not pilloried for their actions. I have in no way here paid justice to the story of Aaron Swartz. If you know nothing of this remarkable young man, then do what you can to find out more. A recent piece of longform writing in Slate is a good place to start.

Aaron’s is a story that needs telling. And remembering.

English: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event.
English: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

School’s out Friday

Is John Green making sense to you here? Because he’s making a lot of sense to me.

Copyright laws are vexed, but so is creating work and sharing it, only to receive no compensation other than the satisfaction that comes from helping others. That works for awhile, but the reality of most people’s existence is that they need to earn money to feed themselves and their family.  What John Green is doing for his nerdfighters is truly admirable. We need more people with attitudes like this – people prepared to make the effort to seek out creators and share profits from work they have remixed or modified from an original source.

My son showed me the Sweet Brown video last night, and it got me thinking. Take a look here.

Sweet Brown has been the subject of Internet memes, and the catchy remix is now available for purchase on iTunes. Who is benefiting from remixing content like this? Sweet Brown, or the owners of the YouTube channels who are hosting advertisements while they rack up 16 million views poking fun at someone’s speech inflections? I note that she seems to have a website (if it is run by people associated with her) and you can buy tshirts and book her for appearances. I certainly hope she’s making some money out of this, because you can bet other people are making money from her.

One day, I will write something other than a School’s out Friday post. Cameron Paterson sent me this tweet tonight:

“You are too busy. Come back to us, please…Hope the new job is fun and challenging.”

My new job is fun and challenging. I’ve been learning a lot about managing a school network, and am indebted to the wonderful IT team at my school who have worked so hard these last few weeks rolling out a new printing solution for our school and getting everything ready for the start of the year. I’ve got a heck of a lot to do, but haven’t we all?

Right now, what I’m looking forward to is sleeping in tomorrow. I hope you get to enjoy the same luxury. Have a relaxing weekend – find some time for you. 🙂

eT@lking – Creative Commons and its impact for education

Last Wednesday night I presented a session about Creative Commons for eT@lking in elluminate. These sessions are very ably moderated by Anne Mirtschin and Carole McCulloch, and feature some fine speakers who are interested in sharing their knowledge and moving people forward with their own learning. (Sounding a bit like Julia Gillard there, aren’t I!).

I uploaded some slides to support the presentation, and I’ve added them to Slideshare so that they can be of use to other teachers and students. They contain the six different Creative Commons licences, and some screenshots of sites that are useful for learning more about copyright and where you source CC licenced material. It’s not earth shattering stuff, but it may prove useful if you are starting the discussion with people in your school.

The session was well attended and there was some interesting discussion in the chat. Anne Mirtschin has included many of the links mentioned and questions posed in a post she wrote about the event.

You can listen to the recording of the session here.

Thanks Anne for inviting me to present, and thank you Carole for moderating this week’s session.

Teaching students (and teachers!) how to search for Creative Commons images and music

I ran a session recently with our Year 7 students about ethical use of images and music from the Web and the need for them to understand Creative Commons licenses. Our Head of Year 7 understands the need for us to be informing our students about ethical use of the Internet and we’d discussed the fact that a session like this was necessary for our students. It’s great when you work with people who support what you’re doing and understand this knowledge is important to impart.

I made reference to this session at a conference I was presenting at in Perth last week. I was talking about Cloud Computing, but a participant’s question at the end of the session referred to what I’d done with the Year 7 students. She wanted to know how you search images on Google that are licensed Creative Commons. The entire room seemed to not know how to do this. It made me think. Just how is it that we expect students to be using the web ethically, when there would be, potentially, the majority of their teachers who have no idea how to do so also?

So, here’s how you do it. First step would be visiting the Google Web Search help page where they explain in detail what it is you can find when you use the Advanced Search options. You can follow this link, or read what I’ve copied from the site (I hope this constitutes fair use -at least I’ve let you know where it’s from!);

Find all types of reusable content using the Advanced Search page

The usage rights filter on the Advanced Search page shows you pages that are either labeled with a Creative Commons license or labeled as being in the public domain. Here are the different usage rights options available:

  • Free to use or share
    Your results will only include pages that are either labeled as public domain or carry a license that allows you to copy or redistribute its content, as long as the content remains unchanged.
  • Free to use, share, or modify
    Your results will only include pages that are labeled with a license that allows you to copy, modify, or redistribute in ways specified in the license.
  • If you want content for commercial use, be sure to select the appropriate option containing the term commercially.

Find reusable images using Advanced Image Search

If you’re looking for reusable images, use the Advanced Image Search page. In addition to images labeled as being under the Creative Commons license or in the public domain, the usage rights filter on this page also shows you images labeled with the GNU Free Documentation license.

In the Usage Rights drop-down, select one of the following options:

  • Labeled for reuse
    Your results will only include images labeled with a license that allows you to copy and/or modify the image in ways specified in the license.
  • Labeled for commercial reuse
    Your results will only include images labeled with a license that allows you to copy the image for commercial purposes, in ways specified in the license.
  • Labeled for reuse with modification
    Your results will only include images labeled with a license that allows you to copy and modify the image in ways specified in the license.
  • Labeled for commercial reuse with modification
    Your results will only include images labeled with a license that allows you to copy the image for commercial purposes and modify it in ways specified in the license.

If you find images with the wrong usage rights in the search results, let us know by reporting them in the help forum.

Before reusing content that you’ve found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed.

I direct my students to select Usage rights – return images that are – labelled for commercial reuse. This screenshot shows you what I mean;

It was a wake up call for the Year 7 students, most of whom admitted to using Google Image Search but paying no heed to copyright issues.

Of course, we had to preface the talk with a discussion about just what Creative Commons was and what the different licenses represented;

Creative Commons licences


You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request.

Share Alike
Share Alike

Share Alike
You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.


You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for non-commercial purposes only.

NoDerivative Works
NoDerivative Works

No Derivative Works
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.

We also explored other sites that allow you to search for images that are in the Creative Commons. These included Morguefile, Compfight, and Flickr itself. We also looked at sites that provide free music in the Creative Commons. These included Jamendo, CC Mixter, opsound, Dmusic and Soundclick.

(A twitter link tonight led me to a site for free stock photo images – Veezzle)

Hopefully, the session had an impact on the way they go about using images and music from the Web. For Australian educators, the Smartcopying website provides an excellent port of call for reading about copyright, and understanding what you can do in schools with text, images and music.

Really, I should be running sessions like this across the school. Something to put on the list for Semester Two!

YouTube and copyright – the dilemma for educators

I love YouTube. I love the way it enables the everyman to generate content and connect with an audience. Just look at the remarkable things that can happen when a YouTube video goes viral. ‘Did you know?’ is a classic example. There’s unassuming Karl Fisch creating a PowerPoint presentation for a staff meeting and what happens – his slides are uploaded to YouTube in a video with music and are watched approx. 4 million times or so. Amazing.  

My students know the power of YouTube. Last year we set our Yr 8 students the task of creating a trailer (like something you’d see at the movies) for a novel they’d read as a literature circle study. One group read ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe’ and created a great video that they uploaded to YouTube. They’ve had 347 views and love checking their stats. YouTube gives our students an authentic audience – they’re looking to attract an audience rather than just present work for the one person -the teacher. That’s pretty empowering stuff.

The students I teach love it when we begin a class with a video from YouTube. I love the ‘hook’ effect they have; because a large number of them are less than five minutes they are the great way to begin a lesson. Students are focused and they often prompt wonderful class discussion. Yesterday I visited Coburg Senior Secondary College to look at their learning spaces and curriculum offerings. A Year 10 class I observed watched this video to evoke some reaction to the issue of climate change;

They were hooked watching this – no doubt – and it prompted interesting discussion. There weren’t any bandwith problems at Coburg so the streaming from YouTube was pretty much instantaneous. Not so where I teach. It’s a 1:1 wireless environment but streaming from YouTube is a drawn out process. If you want to watch a YouTube video you need to load it prior to the class and have it ready to replay. One option is to use a a video conversion site like Keepvid to cache the video from YouTube for use in class. This way you have guaranteed success with one catch- it goes against the copyright laws of this country. 

I’m wondering about the future of copyright and what may happen now that user generated content is really taking off. Will we see a backlash against copyright regulations? Will we see users post their content and stipulate that it can be used and reformatted so that educators can employ it in classrooms to convey important messages? Will more people use creative commons licences to allow their work to be used easily in educational settings? Will the copyright council be able to stem the flow of infringements to the law as more and more educators realise the potential benefits of YouTube to provide useful content for classroom instruction?    


Transformativeness – new word for me but it makes sense

For a long time now I’ve struggled with how to interpret the fair use provision when it comes to Copyright law. It’s a vexed issue for we educators, and particularly those of us who work in school libraries. I’ve been having my students create Digital Stories for awhile now and have tried to impress on them the best way of accessing music and images from the web is via sites that put their content out there under Creative Commons licencing. They find this difficult however, particularly when it comes to music. Very often they know just the right song that fits the message they are trying to convey. Here in Australia, there is a clause related to use of music and sound recordings in student work;

“There is no general provision that allows people to copy for personal or private use. However, the Copyright Act does contain provisions which students may sometimes be able to rely on, including when they want to use music and sound recordings in films and videos they make as part of a course of study. In particular, a student may be able to deal with copyright material for research or study, provided the use is fair. An example of fair dealing for research or study may be using music in a film which is to be submitted for a school or university project, but which you do not intend to show outside the classroom or distribute further.” (Australian Copyright Council p.3)

Tonight I was following the discussion on Twitter when Kristin Hokanson alerted me to her post about copyright confusion. This in turn led to Joyce Valenza’s post  for the School Library Journal entitled, ‘Fair use and transformativeness: It may shake your world’. After reading it, I can say my world has been shaken. Joyce attended a meeting at which Renee Hobbs and Peter Jazsi outlined an interpretation of fair use that she had not considered. Her understanding at the end of the session was this;

“I learned on Friday night that the critical test for fairness in terms of educational use of media is transformative use. When a user of copyrighted materials adds value to, or repurposes materials for a use different from that for which it was originally intended, it will likely be considered transformative use; it will also likely be considered fair use. Fair use embraces the modifying of existing media content, placing it in new context.” 

The word transformative is key here. The suggestion is (I think!) that if a student uses an image or piece of music and adds value to it by maker it richer as a result of its association with what they have produced then the use is fair. I can relate this to the digital stories my students have produced .Often they will use a commercial piece of music but its connection with the images and intention of the students’ work is transformative to that music selection – it means something else other than what its lyrics may have been originally intended for. I may have this completely wrong and please correct me if I have, but that is my understanding of what transformative means.

Joyce summed up her article by condensing her understanding to these points;

  • The Multimedia Fair Use Guidelines describe minimum rules for fair use, but were never intended as specific rules or designed to exhaust the universe of educational practice.  They were meant as a dynamic, rather than static doctrine, supposed to expand with time, technology, changes in practice.  Arbitrary rules regarding proportion or time periods of use (for instance, 30-second or 45-day rules) have no legal status. 
  • The fact that permission has been sought but not granted is irrelevant.  Permission is not necessary to satisfy fair use.
  • Fair use is fair use without regard to program or platform. What is fair, because it is transformative, is fair regardless of place of use. If a student has repurposed and added value to copyrighted material, she should be able to use it beyond the classroom (on YouTube, for instance) as well as within it. 
  • Not every student use of media is fair, but many uses are. One use not likely to be fair, is the use of a music soundtrack merely as an aesthetic addition to a student video project. Students need to somehow recreate to add value.  Is the music used simply a nice aesthetic addition or does the new use give the piece different meaning? Are students adding value, engaging the music, reflecting, somehow commenting on.the music?
  • Not everything that is rationalized as educationally beneficial is necessarily fair use.  For instance, photocopying a text book because it is not affordable is still not fair use.
  • Joyce is speaking from an American perspective but I think there is much to be learned from her article. We are living in transformative times and our students are active creators now that there are accessible tools making creation relatively easy – if only copyright law could follow suit and provide us with clear (read easy to understand) guidelines that will benefit the learning taking place in our classrooms today.

    (sorry about formatting problems in this post – it’s late here, I’m tired and haven’t got the energy to sort them out!!)