Rules are Rules. Sort of.

QEWWhen I lived in Canada for a while, I was always a little bemused by the Canadian approach to speed limits. The maximum allowed speed limit on the QEW and the 400-series roads around Toronto is 100km/h and yet if you actually do that speed you just about get run over. The locals routinely cruise the highways there at 120-130km/h and there’s no issue.

I like to drive fast too, but it used to frustrate my sense of logic when I’d ask my Canadian friends why they didn’t observe the speed limit.

“Oh, it says 100,” they’d say, “but nobody actually drives at 100, we drive at 120.”

“Why don’t they just raise the speed limit to 120”, I’d ask.

“Because then people would just do 140” came the reply.

Apart from being a really strange view of human nature, I’d then ask, “Why don’t you just post the speed limit that you actually want people to observe and then enforce that, instead of having this vague gray area where people do what they aren’t supposed to do on the understanding that nobody really minds?”

This same logic struck me today when I saw an RT from Sandy Kendell leading to a tweet from Bill Ferriter, an outstanding educator from North Carolina who shares and blogs a lot of his great work with the online community. It said…

tweet1

I followed the link, and sure enough, it’s an outstanding resource rubric for helping students understand how to leave a good blog comment.  I know that many teachers will find it a really valuable and useful resource.

But then I noticed that there was a copyright notice at the bottom of every page that said…

Copyright Notice

The PDF resource seemed to be being given away freely on Twitter, but there was a fairly obvious Copyright notice at the bottom of every page. This struck me as odd, since Copyright essentially means that you cannot use a resource without prior permission from the author.

Following the link to “download this page” took me to the webpage where I could buy the book that this free resource came from. A little confused about how a copyrighted work was being given away so freely, I responded with a question on Twitter, phrased briefly to stick within the 140 character limit, which started a conversation with Bill…

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To me, this is all just grey area. If there is an intent to share something that can be used without asking permission, then adding a Copyright notice to it really muddies that intent. The conversation bounced back and forward between Bill and I over Twitter, where I was making the point that, if it’s a free resource that is being given away, then perhaps a better way to do it would be to mark it with a Creative Commons license that clearly indicated up-front how users could make use of this PDF. Marking it with a CC BY-SA-NC, for example, would mean that it could be shared freely for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, and the permission to do so was being given in advance. This eliminates the requirement to contact the author to ask permission, since permission has been pre-given.  That’s the whole point of Creative Commons.

By marking work with a Copyright notice it explicitly says that you cannot use this work without first asking permission. If people do actually follow the rules, that probably means Bill will be kept busy answering a whole lot of “Do you mind if I use your worksheet” emails.

In our twitter conversation Bill made the comment that it was his intention to make the worksheet freely available and that people were welcome to use it. The confusion arises because this same worksheet is very clearly marked with a Copyright notice.  This is just like my Canadian friends who speed along the 100km/h QEW at 130km/h – the sign says one thing, but we do the other. In this case, we say that the resource is free to use, but we signpost it with a notice saying otherwise.

I’m not intending to single Bill out here… he does great stuff, is a prolific sharer online and I have great respect for him. The problem, as he pointed out to me, is that publishers still largely don’t “get” this stuff and they don’t know that alternatives to full copyright exist, or if they do they are too afraid to use them. As an author myself, it astounds me how out of touch most publishers are with the ideals of controlled sharing. There are tons of examples of “Don’t do what I say, do what I mean”. I just think it would be far better if we just said what we mean right from the start.

Bill was trying to defend the publishing industry, reminding me that they are just figuring this stuff out like the rest of us, but I think those of us who understand this stuff should make it our moral duty to educate those who don’t, and help them understand how some of the restrictions they instinctively use, like the indiscriminate stamping of Copyright symbols on everything they publish, work directly against our goals of sharing resources freely with colleagues.

As educators, many of us make things to share with our colleagues – videos, photographs, writing, music, etc. As creators and sharers of educational content, I think we have an obligation to make our sharing intentions crystal clear.  If we intend to freely share our work, then we should clearly indicate that with the use of Creative Commons, Public Domain or some other open license that reflects our intent. If we want to protect our work and restrict access to it, then we should make use of Copyright. But I see a real problem when we confuse the message by not making that intent absolutely clear right from the start.

To paraphrase Dr Suess, you should always say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Then there is no second guessing, no intuiting of intent, and everyone knows exactly where they stand.

CC BY-SA photo by dougtone

Nazis, Not Pirates

I was cleaning up my home office recently and I found a couple of installation disks for Apple’s OS X Tiger operating system, 10.4.7. They must have come with the Macbook Pro I bought back in early 2006, and since that time I’ve upgraded  several times, to 10.5 (Leopard), 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion), and in the not too distant future I’m sure I’ll make the move to 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

Because I have absolutely no need to keep the OSX Tiger disks, I figured I’d sell them on eBay. After all, they might be of some use to someone with an older Mac who wants to stay on that older version of the OS, who possibly has lost or damaged their original disks. I listed them online for $1, eBay’s minimum bid, and hoped that they  might be of some benefit to someone, somewhere.

Less than 24 hours after listing them, I get an email from eBay telling me they had to pull the ad after getting a takedown notice from the Business Software Alliance. “Your item was removed because of a request we received from BSA asking us to remove the item”. They say that “software offered for sale is in violation of an enforceable license agreement, which constitutes a copyright infringement”.

WTF? Are they serious? This is an operating system that is nearly 5 generations old and is no longer for sale.  The only people interested in this software would already own the Mac hardware to run it on, which means they did, at least at one point, own their own copy of the disks anyway.

The email suggested I should write to the BSA if I had further questions.  So I did…

Dear BSA,

I got the following email from eBay after I listed a set of Mac OSX 10.4.7 installation disks…

You guys cannot be serious?

This is a legacy operating system, no longer supported by Apple. How can it possibly be seen as a copyright infringement?  What damages can the BSA possibly claim?  This is not taking sales of new software away from Apple, nor depriving Apple of income.  The disks are sitting in my drawer gathering dust, and I listed them for the absolute minimum price allowed ($1) in the hope that someone who needs them, running an older Mac, might benefit from them.

Surely you understand that these disks are of no benefit to anyone who does not already own the hardware capable of running the software?  By implication, they have already bought – and probably subsequently lost – the disks that came with their original system.  All I’m doing is offering them to chance to get a genuine copy of the disks they have already bought.

Unlike the Windows operating system, Mac OSX cannot be bought as a standalone product, and so whoever has hardware capable of running OSX 10.4.7 has already bought the software, since it came with their hardware! If those original disks have been damaged or lost, the disks I was offering on eBay will simply allow them to have a genuine replacement for something they have already paid for.

Please reply to this email and explain the rationale behind your request to pull these disks from sale on eBay, and also please explain to me – realistically – what damages are being done and to whom.

I await your reply.

Those who know me well would know that I usually do my best to do the right thing regarding copyright, but this seems just stupid to me. Copyright is supposed to protect people from loss of income due to the theft of intellectual property. I fail to see how this takedown notice does that. Thanks to the nazis at the BSA, somebody who might get some benefit from owning the disks for this 6 year old operating system will no longer be able to, and I’ll be deprived of a whole dollar.

Meanwhile Apple still have over $100,000,000,000 in the bank.

Victimless crime? Copyright gone mad? Or am I just being unreasonable?

Philly to Sydney with Year 2

If you like, you can skip right to the bottom of this post and just watch the video, but I always find the story behind the story kind of interesting. So I thought you  might like to know a little bit about how and why this video was made.

It started out with a simple tweet from my buddy Kim Sivick in Philadelphia.  It started a conversation that went something like this…

Do I know anyone who might make a quick Welcome to Australia video?

I sure do.

And besides, I owe Kim a favour. When I was running blogging workshops with our staff last year I was hoping to tap into the experiences of some very blog-savvy educators by getting them to Skype in and talk to our teachers about the realities and the practicalities of using blogs in the classroom. When I asked for volunteers on Twitter (where else?) Kim Sivick  was one of those who generously responded and agreed to spend time talking with us to share her expertise.

I also got to meet Kim in person at ISTE in Philadelphia last year too, so it was nice to “close the loop” on our virtual meetups.

Kim’s idea was deceptively simple. Get our kids to make a short video about a virtual trip to Australia, and in return her classes would make a video about a virtual trip to Philly for us.

With virtually zero planning, I dropped into one of our Year 2 classrooms and asked the teacher there, Lisa, if her kids would like to make a video for these students in Philly and she jumped at the chance. In no time, Lisa and I had a bit of  a brainstorm on what sorts of things we might do, and she started working with the kids to write a script using GoogleDocs. The script gradually evolved and took shape over the next few days.

I’d been wanting to do some work with chromakeying, or greenscreening for a while, but had just never gotten around to it. It wasn’t something I’d done before, but I suggested to Lisa that if we shot the video of the kids in front of a greenscreen, then it might be fun later to try and drop in the images of various parts of Australia as backgrounds. She thought that sounded pretty cool, so I went to our IT Director and asked if I could buy an inexpensive greenscreen kit. It was one of those things we’d talked about buying for a while, but never quite got around to it. With a reason to need it now, we went online and ordered it on the spot.

When it eventually arrived we set up a date for the shoot. The classroom was transformed into a studio for the morning with lights, camera, and plenty of action. I used iPrompt Pro on my iPad to transfer the script, and then held it up just under the camera lens as a  scrolling teleprompter so the kids could read the script as naturally as possible. We shot it on a Sony HiDef camcorder at 1080i/50. It took a few takes to get things right, but the kids really worked hard to do it was well as possible. Being able to repeat a section over and over in order to get it right was a valuable part of the learning experience.  When it came time to shoot, we all had fun calling out things like “Quiet on the set!” and “Rolling!”  and “Action!”, and running things just like a real movie set. I think the kids had a lot of fun recording it.

I took the footage back to my desk and dumped it all onto my MacBook Pro to ponder out the best way to edit it.  Although I definitely do want to get the kids doing more video work themselves, getting them to edit the footage was not really the learning goal for this particular exercise… it was all about their performance for the camera. After some experiments with iMovie I eventually decided that I’d cut it together with Premiere Pro instead. Premiere Pro was certainly not a program that I knew well, but this seemed like a great chance to get cosy with it. I’m glad I did… it’s a very impressive NLVE tool and I like it a lot more than Final Cut Pro 7.

I always try to make sure we set a good example for students regarding copyright, so it was important that all the background images were available under a Creative Commons licence. I think it’s really important that we demonstrate to our students that you can actually make worthwhile digital media without continually breaking copyright law. All the background images are CC licensed, as are the two pieces of music that I included, both from jamendo.com. The two videos were not released under CC, but using their YouTube contact address I wrote to the owners of both and both were more than happy for us to use their clip. One even offered to send us the hi-def footage! Most people are pretty generous if you just ask. Remember, Copyright doesn’t mean “you can’t use it”, it just means “you can’t use it without permission”, so if it’s not CC, then do the right thing and get permission! It’s just not that hard. (Publishing works under a Creative Commons license makes it much easier of course because it’s essentially an “up-front” permission which is pre-granted as long as you stick to the uses stipulated by the copyright owner)

After a couple of days of editing over the weekend, I did the final render to a 720p .m4v file and uploaded it to YouTube as a private link so the Philly kids (and our kids) could see it the next day.  Here’s the finished product…

It always nice to ceremonialise things that are a bit special, so we set a date for a premiere screening and invited all the Year 2 mums and dads in to watch. When the Year 1 Philadelphia kids watched it, they all wore Aussie bush hats and set up their classroom like the inside of a plane to watch the video.  We had our screening this morning and the movie played to a packed classroom of excited Year 2 students and their parents. Proud parents. Excited kids. Performing for a real audience. Making opportunities to create and practice and iterate. Immediate feedback. And lots of fun and laughs. An authentic learning experience?  You better believe it..

Kim tells me that her kids are working on the sequel for us, showing us their virtual trip to Philadelphia, so we are looking forward to that.

Lisa, our Year 2 teacher, now keeps asking me when we can do our next global project, and is coming up with lots of cool ideas for how it will fit into next terms syllabus.

Overall, I think I’d consider this whole thing a win, wouldn’t you. 🙂