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I'll be ripping clips from Gnomeo and Juliet

I’ll be ripping clips from Gnomeo and Juliet to help K-12 teachers teach media literacy.

My New Year’s Resolution: In 2013, I’ll be “ripping” DVDs to make clip compilations for media literacy. And I’ll be encouraging K-12 teachers, school librarians, and technology educators to do the same.

Why? Because finally, as of October 26, 2012, the U.S. Copyright Office, as part of the DMCA 1201 rulemaking process, has declared that K-12 teachers can legally bypass copy-protected software on DVDs and online streaming media to make short clips.

How did this happen? As a copyright education activist, I participated in two rounds of rulemaking proceedings in 2009 and 2012 concerning the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is the law that exempts YouTube and other ISPs from liability from copyright claims and criminalizes the circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) software that protects DVDs from being copied. I was in good company among other copyright education activists including Peter DeCherney, Martine Rife, Spiro Bolos, and the ALA’s Jonathan Band. Professors Victoria Phillips and Peter Jaszi supported my work through the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic at Washington College of Law at American University.

Every three years, citizens can protest if they believe their fair use rights have been compromised by the current law; the Copyright Office pores over the petitions, weighs the pros and cons, and then offers recommendations to the Librarian of Congress, who ultimately grants or denies the exemptions.

In 2009, we were successful in expanding the law so that college professors and film/media students can legally “rip” DVDs for fair use purposes. In 2012, we were successful in expanding the law to include the right of teachers in kindergarten through twelfth grade!

Here’s the fine print: “The person engaging in the circumvention must believe and have reasonable grounds for believing that the circumvention is necessary to achieve the desired criticism or comment, and where the circumvention is undertaken solely in order to make use of short portions of the motion pictures for the purpose of criticism or comment in the following instances: (i) In noncommercial videos; (ii) in documentary films; (iii) in nonfiction multimedia ebooks offering film analysis; and (iv) for educational purposes by college and university faculty, college and university students, and kindergarten through twelfth grade educators.” You can read the text of the Copyright Office decision here.

Why it matters. By asserting that K-12 educators have the right to circumvent encryption to make fair use of copy-protected DVDs and online digital media for teaching and learning, the law begins to move beyond the needs of large-scale content owners to include the rights of educators and students.

But if K-12 educators don’t take advantage of their new legal rights, has the law really changed? This new provision of the law is definitely a “use it or lose it” situation – if we can’t demonstrate the need for the special exemption in 2015, we may lose it. So, my friends, get “ripping.” Unleash your creativity to create new kinds of educational materials with film DVDs. To help you learn how, here’s a “how to” lesson on using the free software Handbrake to rip on a MAC and here’s how to do it on a PC. And please, inspire your colleagues by posting your own plans for “ripping” in the comment space below.

First things first. You might wonder why I’ve set my sights on “ripping” clips from Gnomeo and Juliet (2011, dir: Kelly Asbury). Of course, there’s the wonderful opportunity to hear my favorite classic Elton John songs (like “Your Song,” for example). But the film has so many possibilities for exploring literary concepts like adaptation and intertextuality and for discussing the concept of nostalgia as it shapes the production of films for child audiences.

Among the gems in this film is the infomercial for the Terrafirminator, the “un-neccesarily powerful” lawnmower that’s “a weapon of grass destruction,” so intimidating that “your lawn will be afraid to grow!”

After viewing the commercial, the gnomes use a laptop to order this high-tech lawnmower.

After viewing the commercial, the gnomes use a laptop to order this high-tech lawnmower.

It’s a classic example of those Saturday-morning high-pressure sales pitches we see on TV.  And even very young children will recognize the now-familiar trope of slow-motion ninja fighting when it occurs in the timeless conflict between the red gnomes and the blue gnomes. I can imagine playing the “Spot the Reference Humor” game, where students clap their hands when they recognize an example, using this activity to discuss the complex interpretations viewers make as part of the film viewing experience. Of course, older students will enjoy the chance to discuss how and why the Shakespeare tragedy is bizarrely altered to create the happy ending required for a children’s film.

Now that the U.S. Copyright Office has permitted K-12 educators to “rip” videos for media literacy education, we can celebrate! Happy New Year 2013!

6 thoughts on “A “Ripping” Fine New Year

  1. Hi Renee! You may know me from my commercial studio in AS220 and also as a friend of Frank Romanelli. I’m really thankful for your efforts, and excited that they resulted in a DMCA exception for educators!

    My biggest concern, as a video editor/animator (and education junky!) is that the majority of educators aren’t given ample instruction, incentive and resources to overcome the existing technical and professional hurdles to educational remix and commentary. There are a number of surmountable obstacles to making effective educational mashup material, but I think its quite the battle to get everyone to see, and subsequently use, their latent power. I’m excited that you’re advocating and promoting this! It’s the future of effective education, IMHO.

    I’m really excited about emerging, free web-based tools that are being created to help people manage, edit and remix their disparate web-hosted media. Unfortunately, many protected works do not easily surrender themselves to convenient access for these sanctioned purposes! Hence the need for ripping! In the open web world, if an educator wants to post a video lesson as an open resource, complete with a small protected clip, they might face an automated take down of their media, even if it fits safely into one or more educational purposes. I see free, basic-but-powerful web-native tools as the key to getting teachers to find the ease of access and common utility that is necessary to work with popular media as you’re advocating. These free tools do not come with hardware needs and a purse-busting premium (like the professional software I use,) and they are designed instead to be easily accessible to learners and makers of all ages and ability. I’m specifically excited about the (Disclaimer!) work I do for Mozilla, and am giddy about growing communities like Webmaker and tools like Popcorn Maker. How do we get everyone to make robust use of them and others?

    I think it would be amazing to get DMCA protected media hosted for educational-only purposes. The whole resource would be available for watching but with intentional degradation (perhaps it would be partially scrambled to prevent exploitation, until a clip was selected.) Clips could be available within certain restrictions and guidelines, and be easily pulled up for inclusion in a complete resource. All this selection and mixing could be done from a front-facing tool for those who are too busy to hustle-up their media resources (hardworking teachers!)

    Thoughts fly. Happy New Year!

    -Michael McCarthy

  2. This is so exciting! I am grateful for your clear explanation of the law and the efforts required to get where you have. Meeting with the head of copyright at my University I have come to better understand why you were so excited when we chatted last :)

    I am still working on the “database” idea that Peter and I chatted about, and it seems that the direction things are going the dream may be a little closer to reality. Thanks for all you do! It really is quite amazing.

  3. Pingback: Reflection | EDTC6433 | Susanna Jones bPortfolio

  4. Pingback: It’s Time to Protect Ripping Again | Renee Hobbs at the Media Education Lab

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