Copyright or wrong?

About six months ago I was listening to the radio (unknown show) and the host was interviewing a panel of professors about the state of education and the abilities of current college students.  I was sitting in my car on a lunch break and was not able to hear the majority of the discussion, but I do remember one pointed moment when one of the guests suggested that educators needed to adjust their views and expectations regarding issues of copyright protection and plagiarism.  The rest of the panel attacked this statement with sentiments of upholding the current methods and standards and the suggestion was immediately silenced.  But the suggestion has stuck with me.

What I think the unwitting guest was trying to get at was: with the ubiquitous nature of information students do not understand what copyright and plagiarism is anymore.  Furthermore, as educators we must redevelop how we teach it and we should be understanding of the confusion until we perfect the teaching process again.  For example, when I was a child, I was taught that plagiarism was copying a book (word for word) and passing it off as my own work without citation.  I was also taught that if you get information from a book, you need to give the book/author credit.  Simple enough – don’t copy books.  But with the internet, the way we obtain information has changed and the types of information we obtain has changed.  It is far too easy to go to Google Images,  right click on an image, save it to your desk top and include it in your research paper – no citation.  Just yesterday, one of my students asked me to help them copy an image to add to their blog for a class assignment; she was confused when the website she was trying to copy from asked her to pay for the image.  I redirected her to WikiCommons (a website that hosts copyright free images) and helped her understand the issue of copyrights.

My sister-in-law is a wedding photographer and she fights this issue all the time.  By force of technology, she must display her images on her website: Abby Lorenz Photography.   And while she has gone to the trouble of disabling the copy feature from her pictures, placing watermarks on all her photos and include copyright provisions in her contracts -people still email her asking why they can’t copy images off her website.  She is an artist and a kind person; but because people have no idea what copyright/plagiarism  is, she is stuck in the awkward position of educating people.  She has to tell clients and potential clients that they are trying to steal her work.  People simply do not understand.

I wish the other guests on the radio show had been more open to the idea that the issues of copyright and plagiarism must be reassessed.   I don’t believe the standards need to be lowered, but I do believe that education needs to change to fit an evolving information system.  If we are a society that values art, music and information we need to also be a society that protects artist, musicians and researchers.


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