Tag Archives: copyright

Fair Use and 21st century Social Studies


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How do I properly cite a joke? How about advice? Can I plagiarize my own ideas? Of all the discussion topics I’ve encountered in the Coetail program this one seems the most relevant to my subject area which is Social Studies. I am a firm believer in a number of precepts about history and in general the social sciences as opportunities for collaboration and understanding. I am aware that important considerations regarding the source of knowledge are critical to understanding human behavior in the past and present. Of these “ways of knowing what we know,” authority is the most relevant to fair and proper use because traditional scholarship demands proper citation of information from specific authority. Good scholarship in historical investigation is judged on the strength and balance of quality sources taken from authority; this is reasonable and justified in a sense that it protects both the authority and the researcher but for altogether different reasons. I am intrigued by the discussions around this issue and find that the grey areas are too grey to actually address (I leave that to the courts).

I guess a huge part of my own internalization of fair use is the question “what is an authentic idea?” Is there such thing as an original idea? How does syncretic development fit into the conversation? Writers of religious work generally have borrowed liberally from earlier works. I wonder if the Greeks cried when the Romans stole the Odyssey and produced the Aeneid? Actually, it is reasonable to assume that one of the great accelerators of civilization is the ability of humans to borrow from one another strengthening collective knowledge. The key word here is accelerate as traditional thinking of property and information no longer seems to apply in the 21st century. Consider the proliferation of information in the years after the development of the 16th century printing press. The power to disseminate information lay within the hardware of the actual press (The Chinese understood this having developed printing capabilities as far back as the Sung Dynasty, yet I don’t believe it to be coincidence that every Chinese press was considered property of the Emperor).  The ability to move information has always trumped the actual content and I firmly believe this is because there really isn’t anything radically original or newly constructed that fails to borrow from  pre-existing ideas, designs, and methods.  As new innovations emerge that build and improve, I am much more inclined to place greater value on the connections between people and the content/knowledge, or more appropriately, the concept of experience rather than on wholesale information/product.  Human beings are hard-wired to reach out when the need arises to tap the abilities and skills of others and the benefits of cooperation (or altruism) have been documented, encouraged, and celebrated.

I really enjoy this particular rant on the value of information in context where information is limitless:

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As a social studies teacher the conversations regarding fair use, academic integrity, and scholarly pursuit are vital and relevant. The opportunity that the Creative Commons concept brings to the table is an upgrade to the property minded mores and attitudes of protectionism which have rarely resulted in progress. The great intellectual jumps in history have been the result of sharing and crowd-sourcing and it is actually happening right in front of our faces. This is the right time to begin educating the next generation on being scholarly responsible while endeavoring to embrace the collective power of ideas. The natural place in schools to provide such opportunities is in the Social Studies where visual literacy, critical thinking skills, and citizenship are all heavily emphasized.  I would hate to think the world’s population as one large externality. (The video below is a famous clip from the Documentary “The Corporation:”


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As for piracy, the concept and act have been around as long as people produced surplus goods. Piracy is an activity as inherent to society as deviance. Living in Thailand however, when I buy the bootleg dvd at the Samakorn market, I see the ladies children right there in front of me maybe having things a little bit better, and I actually sleep very good at night.


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