Thursday, November 18, 2004

So, in my forthcoming essay, there's a section asking whether I'm being Chicken Little when I say that current trends threaten the ability of ordinary people to copy even small parts of copyrighted works, such as quotes in yearbooks. I suggest that copyright owners may well threaten such uses when they find them, which is becoming a lot easier as the Internet connects us all.

What I didn't know about then and wish I could have put in is this: Copyright Kids!, a website touted by the MPAA and run by the Copyright Society of the USA, has a "copyright education" module designed to teach kids how to put together a multimedia yearbook. Sure enough, the "copyright cat" who instructs the yearbook kids tells them that quoting (copyrighted) poetry is probably a bad idea, using art/photos not in the public domain requires permission (no mention of fair use), quoting books may be fair use but they need to check with the teacher, and quoting their classmates requires permission. The site advises seeking permission in essentially every case, even for excerpts and for transformative uses like photocollages. It even suggests that using a photo of the Mona Lisa requires the permission of the photographer, which is contrary to the one case on point.

This isn't active enforcement, but it is a move towards changing norms, and not in a good way. School administrators/yearbook heads who learn from this site are learning to cripple themselves and their students, and if many schools modify their practices in similar ways, the remaining quoters/clippers will seem less fair. So, am I Chicken Little? Or is there a real danger here?

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