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[ICTs in English] Weekly update, Mar 27 - Apr 2

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  • From: Hamish Chalmers <hchalmers AT>
  • To: ictenglish AT
  • Subject: [ICTs in English] Weekly update, Mar 27 - Apr 2
  • Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2012 13:40:38 +1200

Surviving the eBookalypse

Copyright - the dreaded topic many teachers (myself included) often skip over or make an obligatory pass at in the hope that students won’t ask too many difficult questions. Often, these kinds of discussion seem to often centre around the individual and their legal and ethical responsibilities. The kinds of conversations (and sometimes worries) we’re all too familiar with like, “how can I create a visual text without breaching copyright?” or maybe even something a little wider like, “what are my ethical responsibilities around copyright? Why shouldn’t I pirate films, music, books and computer games?” While these conversations are important, I’ve always felt they miss the point (or points) around information and creative works: the ways they are disseminated and how profit-making primary motivator has a much bigger influence that we might realise. Encouraging students to look at the bigger picture around these issues, I think, is essential in engaging them and informing them.

To shed a little more light on what I mean, I’ll quote the final paragraph from an recent article “A Whip to Beat Us With”, by Corey Doctorow. While this article is aimed more at authors, it provides a fascinating perspective on digital rights management as a tool to control works and more specifically, control profits.

For too long, publishers have been worrying about the wrong thing, chasing pie-in-the-sky DRM that has never worked at stopping piracy, and will never work. In the process, they’ve fashioned a scourge for their own industry—a multimillion-dollar liability that their customers will have to absorb in order for publishers to get back any leverage at the bargaining table. And every book you allow a tech company to sell with DRM only increases that liability.’

If you want any explanation of what that’s all about, you’ll need to read the whole (excellent) article. From a teaching and learning perspective, I’d suggest that an ethical approach to helping our students learn about these issues might be to help them understand the who all the different parties are in the publishing and creating world, what their motivations might be and how this effects legislation and consumer behaviour. Obviously we’d also continue to help students develop their critical thinking skills and then let them make their own decisions (as they will anyway) on how to respond to the situation.

In a previous post I mentioned how Corey Doctorow recently released one of his novels “Little Brother” under a creative commons licence, not to mention “Makers” which he has distributed as a free audio book. Check this link for a slightly more emotive and informal argument/summary than the above article. Since my earlier post, a colleague of mine emailed Doctorow about some ideas he’d had around teaching the novel in a secondary school on the off-chance he might get a reply. Not only did Doctorow respond the same day, he even emailed back some links to resources that he thought might be helpful in a course that studied the novel. And in case you’re worried this might be a purely profit-motivated gesture in itself, keep in mind that a school could easily choose to study the novel without buying a single copy and instead provide students with the download link.

In case you get really interested in an interesting introduction to copyright and information freedom, here’s a short story in audio and print called “Surviving the eBookalypse”. It’s a light-hearted depiction of how authors might be used/employed in the future but could serve as an excellent starting point for a discussion, not to mention provide plenty of great links to other parts of a course.

Hamish Chalmers
Facilitator: ICTs in English

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