Thursday, October 15, 2009

License To...?

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”
Atlantic Monthly, July 1945

As we begin this year’s journey through the uncharted waters of academe, it is good to look back into the history of technology at a visionary thinker. Dr. Vannevar Bush was Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He supervised the progress of scientific research during the Second World War and was on the cutting edge of technological developments. In this article for the Atlantic Monthly, he looks to the future of technology and its wider application to more ordinary uses. He discusses the innovations of microfilm, dry printing, dry photography and their application to the invention of a desk system, “the memex” as described above.

As knowledge workers, we daily manipulate vast amounts of books, records and communications. We can look back sixty-five years and see the concepts behind our modern computing system appearing hazily in the distance. He does not predict the intercommunication of the desks and libraries into one enormous virtual desk. He still talks about buying information.

In our world, the “books, records, and communications” have expanded exponentially to include films and music. Not only do we now purchase films and music for our entertainment we also create and publish them for the use of others. Our creations are also managed from our memexes; we license the performance through third-party brokers like YouTube or Vimeo.

One of the major issues in the world of the performing arts today is the debate about compensating artists for their work. If you want a picture of the music market of today, ask your fourteen ear old students how they buy their music. You may be in for a surprise, as many don’t actually buy music. At least one mobile phone operator licenses its users to temporarily download as much music as they wish from the firm’s online library. That downloaded music will disappear when the contract ends. Others use services such as Spotify where licensed music is available for you to listen to online. You can organize and share playlists, but you don’t own the music and are restricted from storing any on your personal devices.

Those are some of the legal ways of obtaining music without purchasing it. The world of illegal file sharing, sometimes called ‘torrenting’ after the BitTorrent networking client, rears its head. You may recall the birth of file sharing with the service named Napster. Sean Fanning transformed the system where people on a network designate share points for posting files for visiting users into a centrally searchable database of the contents of al the subscribers to the service shared content. His network was not the local area network or wide area network of an office or university campus, it was the network of networks – the Internet. The music industry took action, and along with major film and television organizations still continues to take action against its successors. Distribution of copyright content is strictly controlled by the industry, sometimes through physical means such as region codes for DVDs, but always through contracts and licenses. What is available on eMusic in the UK differs from what is available on eMusic in the United States. Pandora, the online music service, had to curtail its operations outside of the United States because agreements on licensing could not be reached with the record industry. One of the newest forms of distributing music is through performance videos on YouTube. This has become a ‘hot button’ issue because of the potential for redistribution of copyrighted material.

When content is posted to YouTube, according to the YouTube terms, posters are to ensure:
9.2 You agree that you will not post or upload any User Submissions which contain content which it is unlawful for you to possess in the country in which you are resident, or which it would be unlawful for YouTube to use or possess in connection with the provision of the Services.

9.3 You agree that you will not upload or post any User Submissions that are subject to any third party proprietary rights (including rights of privacy or rights of publicity), unless you have a formal licence or permission from the rightful owner to post the material in question and to grant YouTube the licence referred to in paragraph 10.1 below.

Your students may not know that the video and audio rights for performances that they attend are licensed and that they do not implicitly have the permission of the copyright owners to transmit or rebroadcast personal recordings of copyright performances. When students are adding music to a film or media project, they must be explicitly be warned of copyright issues and further distribution outside of the classroom if they use any material copyrighted by others from their music libraries.

In that light, it is worth reminding your students that when they are posting their own original work on YouTube that, according to the Terms posted on YouTube, they are entering a contract with YouTube and granting a license to YouTube as follows:
10. Rights you licence

10.1 When you upload or post a User Submission to YouTube, you grant:

1. to YouTube, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable licence (with right to sub-licence) to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform that User Submission in connection with the provision of the Services and otherwise in connection with the provision of the Website and YouTube's business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels;
2. 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.

10.2 The above licenses granted by you in User Videos terminate when you remove or delete your User Videos from the Website. The above licenses granted by you in User Comments are perpetual and irrevocable, but are otherwise without prejudice to your ownerships rights, which are retained by you as set out in paragraph 8.2 above.

Every nation has its own copyright clearance body and procedures. The world of copyright has not yet found a global understanding. Rights are licensed and applied differently all around the world. What is “fair use” in the United States is “Prohibited Activity” elsewhere. Some countries have only a notional form of copyright protection and licensing that is largely ignored. All we can do as educators is make students and our colleagues aware of both their rights and their responsibilities and do our best to ensure that our practices are in line with the local laws.

Our personal memexes grow smaller and more powerful with every passing year. The material that we have access to grows every year. The association we can make between performer and composer and consumer of creative acts grows deeper and richer. We need to make sure that an attitude of respect for the works of creative artists is being established.