YouTube and Copyright

The following tweet came to my attention this weekend:

“Hearing so much conflicting info about youtube. IT dept saying it is illegal to use in school because of copyright..??”

My gut instinct tells me that this IT department isn’t really worried about copyright and is actually either a) worried about having enough bandwidth to allow teachers (and students?) watch a video whenever they like, or b) miffed about the fact that any education which includes YouTube doesn’t look the the education they had and is therefore a silly diversion.  The first possibility is an issue that should be taken seriously.  The second possibility would demonstrate a big disconnect between the folks charged with supporting technology and those that use it.

But let’s assume that they really are concerned about copyright.  Here are some talking points I would bring up with my IT department:

  1. Even if showing YouTube videos in school were illegal, YouTube would bear the brunt of any legal issues, not schools. Can you imagine a motion picture studio trying to identify all the cash-strapped schools that may have shown clips of their content and suing them individually rather than going after a subsidiary of one of the wealthiest corporations on earth? P.S. YouTube’s been around since 2005.  If the entire site were “illegal” something would have been done about it already.  Speaking of which…
  2. YouTube has already dealt with this. Lawsuits, and the threat of lawsuits, has forced YouTube to include tools for copyright owners to identify and remove unauthorized videos.  YouTube has a copyright school, they punish offenders, and they ban repeat offenders.  While it would be a huge stretch to say that 100% of the content on YouTube has no copyright issues, they have cleaned-up their act with respect to copyright over the past few years.  (And they even have a YouTube for Education section).
  3. If you’re going to take a hard-line on YouTube copyright, guess what else you need to do?  Take a hard-line on copyright on the rest of the Internet.  If you think YouTube is illegal, you should see the rest of the web; it’s full of illegally copied and re-purposed text and images (and videos).  Is the IT department currently filtering all websites that aren’t compliant with U.S. copyright law?  If not, why is it focusing on one particular site?

If copyright is an issue, you know what a far better approach would be than just banning YouTube?  Working collaboratively with educators (and students) to train them to understand and follow copyright law.


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