Youth culture, education and copyright.

Copyright on the penguin photo used in Socially Awkward Penguin meme is owned by National Geographic. This meme was created by someone else (not me) at quickmeme.com and is embedded in this page.

Earlier this year, a great post appeared on Buzzfeed about a broken door at a German university, and the fantastic student meme response that resulted from it. Memes are recommended for classroom teachers to make classroom rules more fun, or to open up discussions about the units of work, and to connect with students. There are various examples around of using memes almost like flash cards to help with their own learning, including Danielle Henderson’s Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr site that helped her reinforce the academic concepts that she was learning about, and went on to be featured on many websites, magazines and news sites, and nominated for a Young Adult Library Association award. Coding and decoding memes has its own set of rules and is an important digital literacy for engaging in many online conversations around politics and current affairs.

This suggests that it is a good thing for students to use memes for the purpose of their formal and informal learning. Unfortunately, meme creation is not necessarily  allowed under Australian copyright laws. Under these laws, users need to obtain the original author or creator’s permission, unless the work is covered by fair dealing laws (ACC, 2014). Most instances of meme use in a classroom would be covered by fair dealing, as they are being used for educational purposes. My first example – the memes about the broken door – although being produced in an educational institution, are not being created for study or research purposes, however they are satirical and therefore may be covered by fair dealing (if something similar happened in Australia).

However, what happens when students do create something for study or research purposes, but then want to share it? For example, do the images I’ve used in this blog breach copyright? While I am allowed to make a copy of them for study or research purposes,   this assessment piece is posted on a public blog and I would be breaching copyright if I had made copies of the images. Fortunately, I’ve embedded most of them, effectively linking to them, which is allowed. The few that I have uploaded were allowed under creative commons licenses. Do young people understand the difference?

Each year in New South Wales, a selection of the student artworks for the higher school certificate are exhibited in galleries around the state through Art Express. Appropriation, derivative and mashup artworks are important art genres, especially for the purposes of reimagining popular culture through different racial, gender or other sociocultural perspectives. While year 12 students are covered by fair dealing in the creation of their artworks for assessment, if they are fortunate enough to be chosen for the Art Express exhibitions, they are required to seek permission from the original creators of any artworks they’ve used.

One way of teaching students about copyright is to encourage the use of creative commons material. This method was used in a workshop teaching Australian preservice media teachers about copyright, after they’d spent some time learning about what could and couldn’t be done by their potential students under fair dealing laws. Interestingly, locating appropriate creative commons material took so much time that seeking copyright owner’s permission and potentially paying to use the material might have been more efficient.

This suggests that teaching students about copyright is important, but extremely difficult. In education, the lines between formal and informal learning are blurring, yet what is legal for students to do inside and outside the classroom are quite different. Leaked documents about the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement suggest that copyright will become even more restrictive when it is introduced, with many advocacy groups such as the Australian Society of  Archivists and Choice concerned about the implications.

However challenging, young people do need to understand how copyright affects them in their academic and personal lives. Otherwise, they will almost inevitably, though inadvertently, be breaking the law if they apply the same principles they learn in school to their real life situations.

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