Monday, 17 October 2016

Teaching Copyright and Creative Commons (featuring the Selfie Monkey)

Last week I led a short presentation for students in the Theatre Department, alongside colleagues Steve McIndoe and Kate Grigson from the Library, about copyright considerations to take into account when using others' materials in recorded theatre productions.

It's easy to spend sessions like this dwelling on the restrictions and getting bogged down in legal minutiae, and making copyright sound boring, overly pedantic and restrictive. While going over some of the necessary basics of copyright law, the main point of this session was to give an understanding of why protecting your artistic work is important, and to give students information about using Creative Commons material that allows them the create work that they can be confident about sharing widely without legal snags. If the work they produce at university has sound copyright thought behind it they can use it as a showreel or share it via social media, reaching new audiences and showing future employers they have the knowledge and attention to detail to use others' work with care and legal consideration (which gives them a head start on many graduates entering the creative industries).

Some good discussion was had in the session. We spent some time examining The Verve's infamous use of an uncleared sample of a Rolling Stones cover on their song Bittersweet Symphony, leading to the band losing all royalties, awards and artistic control from their biggest hit to Jagger, Richards and their publishers. We also discussed the 'selfie monkey' and who owned the copyright of the above image - the photographer who owned and set up the camera, or the monkey who took the picture (it's no-one - the monkey took the picture, but animals aren't covered by copyright law - but the photographer is challenging this!).

Hopefully the students found the session useful, and it gave them some grounding to think about these issues as they progress through their studies. As creators themselves they should know their own rights, and respect the rights of others, but perhaps as importantly know the ways Creative Commons plugs them into a rich source of material to remix and adapt creatively and legally. Teaching about copyright and IP issues, rather than being dry and draconian, can be a liberating way to allow students to work with and repurpose material, adding to their digital and information literacies, and creating more engaged digital citizens.

Pete Mella

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