I have reached the finish line of the Copyright for Educators and Librarians Coursera MOOC I’ve been taking! The fifth and final week consists of four lessons: “Introducing Fair Use,” “Transformation” (an essential concept in contemporary fair use litigation), “Applying Fair Use,” and “The International Picture.” These four lessons contain 77 minutes of video and (including the supplementary reading) 8 readings that take approximately 90 minutes to complete; in total, the course contains about four and a half hours of video and approximately six hours of readings.
Fair use is the most notoriously difficult aspect of copyright, so to me Week 5 was always destined to be the true test of the course. Lessons one and two do a great job of explaining that the point of fair use is to act as a “flexible safety valve” that ensures that copyright isn’t overly restrictive, and that educators and librarians rely on it nearly every day, even if they don’t realize it. They do a very good job of using quotation as a paradigm for understanding the difficult concept of “transformativeness.” Lesson three, unfortunately, is much weaker. The instructors approach applying fair use by each talking about instances when they relied on it in their own work. I fear that the passive lecture format just isn’t capable of preparing people to navigate similarly complex situations on their own, though. The essential reading by Kenneth D. Crews takes up some of this slack by presenting walking students through a series of scenarios, but ultimately there just isn’t a good substitute for the iterative process of being presented with a case study, coming up with a fair use argument, having that argument critiqued by an expert, and then repeating this again and again until it becomes second nature.
The final lesson’s overview of international copyright laws is a welcome addition to the course, although it is a bit brief, and I was very happy to see the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education included with Week 5 as a supplemental reading, although it wasn’t clear to me why this particular code was chosen, as opposed to providing a link to all of the codes developed with the assistance of the Center for Media & Social Impact.
The course ends with a “concluding problem exercise” which consists of three scenarios followed by 3-4 multiple choice and one short-response question each. The quiz, which most students who make it this far should be able to complete in less than an hour, is challenging, but not overly difficult.
All in all, I feel that Copyright for Educators and Librarians is a good introduction to copyright and an excellent review tool for people who have completed a more comprehensive, mediated course in copyright such as CopyrightX or the Copyright Management and Leadership class that used to be offered by the University of Maryland University College’s Center for Intellectual Property (RIP). It isn’t a substitute for this kind of interactive, hands-on education, though. On the other hand, you have to start somewhere, and I definitely had a positive enough experience with the course that I will check out the second Coursera MOOC that this set of instructors collaborated on called Copyright for Multimedia sometime early next year!
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