Copyright in International Schools

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws?
How do we teach copyright in countries where international copyright law is not often followed?

I was shocked by the article “The Picture Problem:  Should a charge of plagiarism ruin your life?” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Did Byrony Lavery SERIOUSLY not understand that she was absolutely ‘in your face’ plagiarizing the work of psychiatrist Betty Lewis!  How could a renown playwright get to that point in her career and not understand that she was plagiarizing.  She stated that she thought the parts she used from Betty Lewis were common knowledge, but that is not true because she also used real experiences from Betty’s life, which was why Betty was so upset.  I find it very strange that her editors did not catch this and that it could go all the way to production without anyone checking that all the credits were included and accurate.  I would hazard a guess that most of our high school students would know better that that…. which leads to the question of this blog – how should we deal with copyright overseas?

As a school librarian I have a unique role in upholding copyright law and I try to model what I believe to both the teachers and students.  I don’t observe copyright because I am worried that I or the school is going to come under scrutiny from the law – this is very unlikely here, but rather because it is important for the community to be aware of it.  I am certainly not perfect in my observance but adhere to copyright law as much as I can. For example, I will not make copies of DVD’s, the only time I will is because we have already purchased the original VHS and the company has not transferred it to DVD format yet…so it leaves me little choice.  I don’t copy books and discourage teachers from doing so for class and recommend they order enough copies for the whole class and assist them with the order if needed.  Students are allowed to copy a portion of material out of various books in the library but not the whole work.

I think for academic research it is important that students cite their sources at all times in order to give credit to others but more importantly to avoid plagiarism.   Whether you are plagiarizing in India, America or Africa it makes no difference where you are,  the fact remains you are plagiarizing and it is important that students understand this properly so as to avoid what happened Byrony Lavery.  However, I do think there is another side to this with student research.  For example if a student is asked to produce a multimedia presentation to illustrate, for example, a part of history or particular concept like “stem cell research”, I believe it assists learning when students are able to use any pictures, video clips and music they like.  The choice of a particular song or image may really get their message across and illustrate their unique interpretation of the situation.    This is why I also believe on the importance of sites like “creative commons” and the bigger they get the better.   What would the helicopters scene in “Apocalypse Now” be like without Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”?  So….thank goodness many great works over time become public domain.
Helicopters IMG_4160
From Flickr (OZinOH’s photostream)

In conclusion, from an overall perspective it is clear that copyright law needs to change with the times, and as social networks grow and evolve then copyright needs to evolve as well.  It is also becoming more of an ethical issue, which was not the case in the early 1500’s in the UK when it was created.  People who create or invent something have the right to profit and be recognized for their work, but for how long?  How many more people in Africa have to die of HIV because they can’t afford the price of drugs from the US nor are they able to use pirated far cheaper versions of the drug.

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