class copies, copyright, and the digital divide

As a teacher who has found herself in the unanticipated position of having to go textless this term, I give a very grateful shout out to David West Brown, whose exceptional text In Other Words: Lessons on Grammar, Code-Switching, and Academic Writing permits teachers to make copies of handouts from the text and to disseminate them for classroom use. West Brown even provides a citation footer on each handout page, sparing teachers the need to add one before photocopying.

Creative Commons is wonderful. And fair use, which grants educators some (limited) freedom to use copyrighted material that we otherwise couldn’t, is as well. But the kind of resource sharing modeled by West Brown is practical and important. I can’t speak to how many teachers intentionally or unintentionally violate copyright when teaching with resources created by others, but I can say that when you go textless, it takes a concerted effort to avoid doing so.

And it can be frustrating in an era of widespread digital sharing, where linking and retweeting are commonplace, to be inhibited by copyright restrictions on print and other media. It’s frustrating to find an excellent short story and then realize that because it’s 4752 words – beyond the length allowed by the Copyright Act for educational use – it’s too long to be copied and read in class. If I taught in a computer lab, no problem. Students could just pull it up online. Or if most students had access to computers at home, they could read it independently. But when access to the internet is limited, as it is when you teach the poor, the restrictions of copyright and internet access can be crippling.

[aside – At MBDA, we published using Creative Commons, and I authored a somewhat avant-garde citation model that gave contributors credit for their edits. We were focused on sharing information, removing barriers to access, and acknowledging the significance of collaborative work. I wonder how the Internet of Things will change things. Will it make ownership more diffuse or more discrete? I wonder if it will unseat copyright or if a new model of crediting will emerge.]