Vol 5|No 7|June|1996

A Response to Keeping It Legal

by Ted Nellen


Note: The statements in the following letter are the opinions and responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the sentiments of From Now On.

To the editor . . .

The copyright issue has been one of my pet projects this past year. I am the Webmaster and an English teacher in a public high school in NYC. Our kids do extensive work on the Internet. In fact my four classes of 34 students each have made their own web pages and have constructed webfolios. We do extensive research on the web and publish everything on the web.

I would like to address some of the issues you raise in your article, in no particular order.

1. I agree "a degree of caution" is advisable, but we should not be bulldozed by publishers who do a lot of huffing and puffing without the law on their side. I am specifically referring to an article in the July 5, 1996 issue of "The Chronicle of Higher Education" page A15 "Checking the Fine Print of Superhighway Licences". Librarian Ann Okerson of Yale Univ explains how publishers write their licences to commercial and not educational needs, and when pushed on rewriting these licenses they do to accomodate education. Essentially I see the publishers writing these licenses any way they wish to and if you sign them then you must abide by them. However, if you renegotiate the license the publisher will accomodate the user in the end. This is an important lesson.

2. When I plan to use a site in my classroom, I write a letter to the webmaster or owner of that site and explain what I plan to do with their site in my classroom. I tell them I plan to download their site into a specific directory on our server. The students will be accessing our local site rather than the original site to 1. give us faster access time and 2. not to overwhelm their site with 34 hits at once. The students will link to the real site not our local site when they write their hypertext essay and our local site will dissappear after the project has been completed. I have never received a letter of refusal, and in fact I have always received a letter of approval and encouragement. Note that I do not ask for permission, since this may delay our project, I let them know what I will be doing, do it, and delete it. This is "Fair Use".

3. When my students find a neat image they wish to use we follow two steps 1. is it public domain? or 2. is it copyrighted? If it is public domain we put it in our school graphics directory for all to use. If it is copyrighted I have the kids isolate it on the screen copy down the URL and then add it in their HTML script. That is the img src script would point to the actual site of the graphic. When in doubt we point to the site of the graphic. Thus the student can use the image without violating copyright. If I can view it on the web then I can certainly point to it. There is no misinterpretation here and the rightful owner still maintains ownership.

4. The web seems to be a public space and in fact the directory which houses the home page is called public_html. The act of using a browser like Netscape, Mosiac, Internet Explorer and the like in and of itself is illegal since those browsers are using the ftp concept to download that site to your hard drive. WebWhacker has merely used this concept and done a commercial thing. I would suggest that the folks who are worried about the laws consult with the makers of these tools and not go after the users.

5. This copyright issue has become a major issue in our govt and in education. I see it as a matter of power. There are no specific laws yet and we must follow existing laws. The question is of ethics more than it is an issue of law at this point.

6. Please allow me to provide you with a few more sites you omitted in your resourceful article:

Cyber Space Law for Non-Lawyers http://www.counsel.com/cyberspace/
Ethics on the Net
Copyright links
NYTimes article

7. The new list sponsored by CyberSpace Law for Non-Lawyers has already answered many questions about copyright and has a subscription list of 15,000 people at last count.

We are just scratching the surface of this issue. But my word of caution to all is not to allow the publishers be the leaders in this fight because we will lose. They are not concerned with education, they are concerned with making money. So it is our job to protect education and push the envelope of education and the Internet. We should be involved in the creation of these laws as much as possible and not merely sit by and let "them" tell us. We are active participants and users and should be part of the process. We do have a proud history and heritage of standing up to injustice in this land.

Yes, worry about lawsuits but don't back down from the fear of them nor the threat of them. As a great American once said "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The sentiments stated here are appropriate today on this very importnat issue. Copyright is an issue to be made by the people, for the people and not by the private interests of the publishers. This is important to remember.

Ann Okerson provides strong words and advice on how to actually deal with this issue in the most concrete and rational manner I have seen or read to date. My practice has also produced great results without compromising copyright or "Fair Use". I just advise, don't just sit and wait otherwise many rights we, as educators, should have will be lost. Stand up and move forward, with caution, but move forward with purpose and determination.


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