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!”
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!