Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Copyright Confusion

The more I think about copyright, and in particular the use of video in schools, the more confused I get. I know enough to know that it's complicated and that I don't understand it. This post is therefore an exploration of my ignorance and I'd be grateful to anyone who can shed any light: preferably by referring me to trustworthy sources of information that can be understood by non-lawyers!

Copyright is for Losers
Originally uploaded by 917press
Using YouTube
The genesis of this post came from a series of exchanges on Twitter prompted by David Noble asking for an easy way to download YouTube videos. There are a few ways to do this and I sent him a link to this javascript solution which I think is one of the easiest: Download YouTube Videos as MP4 Files. However, just because you can downloading the video doesn't mean that you should... or that it's legal to do so.

I asked: YouTube/Copyright is tricky. If it's OK to watch YouTube online in school, is it OK to download and show to get around blocked YT?

Clearly, this is a naive view of copyright, but it feels right. If there are no copyright issues in watching it online (a big if I'll grant you) it seems sensible that you should be able to watch it offline too. Sensible perhaps but legal? Probably not. The problem is, you are making a copy of something without the express permission of the copyright holder. (Implied permission is not sufficient according to the Intellectual Property Rights guru in the university.)

Showing Movies
Even assuming you are not making a copy, or using a pirated copy that someone else has made, you could still be in trouble. Just because you have legally purchased a legit copy of a film on DVD, it doesn't necessarily mean you can show it in school. A typical warning at the start of a film says something like:

Warning: The copyright proprietor has licensed the programme ... for private home use only. Unless otherwise expressly licensed by the copyright proprietor, all other rights are reserved. Use in other locations such as airlines, clubs, coaches, hospitals, hotels, oil rigs, prisons, schools and ships is prohibited unless expressly authorized by the copyright proprietor. ...Any such action establishes liability for a civil action and may give rise to criminal prosecution."

Goodness knows what would happen if you were showing a DVD while taking a school club on a coach and ferry trip to a prison hospital based on an oil rig! Showing the film in school is specifically prohibited and yet legal, commercially purchased DVDs are shown in schools day and daily. Is the copyright law an ass or are we just choosing to ignore it because it suits us to do so?

I know that my dentist pays an annual fee to an industry body so that he can play music in his surgery. Does a similar arrangement exist to allow schools to play commercial DVDs? Even if an arrangement like that exists, is it possible to extend it to something like YouTube where, instead of a few major film/TV producers and a manageable number of independent companies, you have hundreds of thousands of individuals all posting material? I suspect it isn't.

Back to YouTube

A look around YouTube's help section reveals a General Copyright Inquiries: Permission to use videos? page. It says "The rights to any screen shots or footage of third party content on our site are not ours to grant. You would need to follow up with the individual content owners regarding the rights to this footage.", which seems fairly clear. However, Theo directed us to the Terms of Use page where to my mind, things get muddier. He specifically directed us to section 11.2 which says: "YouTube Content may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, distributed, transmitted, broadcast, displayed, sold, licensed, or otherwise exploited for any other purpose whatsoever without the prior written consent of YouTube, or YouTube's licensors. YouTube reserves all rights not expressly granted in and to the YouTube Content." That seems clear but to my non-legal mind, it contradicts section 10.2 B: "When you upload or post a User Submission to YouTube, you grant: ... B. to each user of the Website, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, licence to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions to the extent permitted by the functionality of the Website and under these Terms." It's the bit that I've highlighted in bold that confuses me. Undoubtedly, it makes sense to a copyright lawyer but to me, 10.2 says I have a licence to reproduce it but 11.2 says I can't reproduce it. Eh!? I guess it's something to do with the "to the extent permitted by the functionality of the Website" bit.

Of course it gets even worse when YouTube users post something that may not be entirely theirs to publish, for example some of the Lip Dub stuff I referred to in a previous post - their video but someone else's music. Potentially an educationally valuable experience but one that is scuppered as soon as you start worrying about copyright.

No Conclusions
Our brief flurry of activity on Twitter spluttered to a halt with the comments: "It's a tightrope, Spud" from Alan and "...there is sniff of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle about the issue of copyright in ed >how many schools prosecuted?" from John. Not an entirely satisfactory conclusion to either the Twitter conversation or to this (very rambling) post. I'm back where I started - confused.

  1. Is there a simple to understand guide for teachers that addresses some of these issues? What can I do and what can't I do? What are the risks and what are the benefits?
  2. Would it confuse things even further if YouTube was to promote Creative Commons licences for videos the way Flickr does with photographs? (See Free to use... with Flickr.)


John said...

Hi David,
As far as I remember there is something that schools can pay to allow them to show commercial DVDs.

I think the answer to Q1 is no;-)

Youtube seems to me a tricky one, so much of it might be breaking copyright in the first place. I used to use the BBC animated shakespeare in class, unfortunately the tape I had had bits missing so i download clips from youtube, but I think that whoever posted them to youtube was breaking copyright in the first place.

Alan said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts and raising this issue again, it certainly is a mindfield. In my mind I am content that I know enough re copyright and images, but as you say the water is much more muddier when it comes to sites like youtube. I was led to believe that using the embed code (in Glow, for example) was acceptable as I was not downloading/uploading anything, and embedding code is the same as sharing a URL?

Hopefully someone with more knowledge than me (will not be hard to find!) will have some conclusive answers - I fear perhaps not.

I will refrain from quoting Trainspotting this time! ;-)


David said...

Hello John

Thanks for the confirmation about DVD licence. I wonder how much that costs education annually?

I suspected that might be the answer to Q1 but I continue to live in hope.

Hello Alan

Assuming you are OK to show the video in the first place, I think an embed code is OK because you are streaming from YouTube rather than making a copy. You are using the "...functionality of the [YouTube] Website" and so are covered by YouTube's terms and conditions (I guess).

I think most teachers are in the same boat when it comes to copyright and adopt the head in the sand position. (Thereby making it easier for the film industry to kick us?)

Oh... and never apologise for quoting from films. :-)

David Gilmour said...

Part of the problem here is the fragmented nature of the organisations which represent copyright holders. I've just been on a wild goose chase involving likely-sounding suspects who turned out to have nothing to do with it, such as the Copyright Licensing Agency (basically printed and scanned stuff only) and the Educational Recording Agency (basically only broadcasts).

There is some good news, though. I've found a statement on the Intellectual Property Office's site of exceptions which apply to schools, which seems to provide an answer to the video question:

"Performing, playing or showing copyright works in a school, university or other educational establishment for educational purposes. However, it only applies if the audience is limited to teachers, pupils and others directly connected with the activities of the establishment. It will not generally apply if parents are in the audience. Examples of this are showing a video for English or drama lessons and the teaching of music. It is unlikely to include the playing of a video during a wet playtime purely to amuse the children."

I hope I'm allowed to reproduce that...

Mosher said...

Embedding seems acceptable on the basis that YouTube themselves promote it and provide the code. They could hardly sue you for using something they push you to use!

Question 2 gets a resounding "yes" from me, but I think a lot of the issue with downloading is down to how YouTube makes money.

Watch most videos now and you'll see a little yellow marker on the timeline a few seconds in. This is a popup for an advert which I subconsciously close when it appears without even reading it. Regardless, YouTube (I believe) get some cash for this appearing - though it may be on click-throughs.

If you download the video, this advert is not brought down it it, nor is it displayed when you play the video. In effect, you are bypassing YouTube's revenue stream. That, to my mind, is why they don't want you downloading them.

David said...

Hello David

Thanks to the link on exceptions. Very helpful. (I guess the goose was eventually caught!)

Hello Mosher

I suppose the need to make money does complicate things. Flickr is a subscription based service as well advertising supported for non-subscribers so maybe allowing CC isn't as big a problem.

However, I would still like to see the option in YouTube.

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