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Rethinking Digital Copyright Laws

Some of you may have heard about the changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, last week, the most notable of which allows iPhone users to "jailbreak" their phones, or modify them so they will run applications not approved by Apple, according to the New York Times. However, buried within the new exemptions are some changes to copyright law that will effect both higher education and K-12 educators and students.

As Renee Hobbs, a professor at Temple University's School of Communications and Theater and expert on media literacy education in the U.S., explains on her blog, the U.S. Copyright Office now allows post-secondary film and media students and professors to make documentaries and remix clips from DVDs to engage in "comment and criticism." However, this exemption does not apply to K-12 students and teachers, nor does it apply to higher education students in other fields of study.

The Copyright Office ruled that K-12 students and educators could use free online software to get screen grabs and short clips without copying DVDs. However, Hobbs also reports that K-12 educators and students who would like to show their movies at public screenings or festivals and need high-quality images are allowed to use DVD clips under a special exemption outlined by the new rulings to the DMCA.

Perhaps I am biased from covering K-12 education, but I think in light of the strong push for digital tools and media in the classroom, and the emphasis on digital literacy and skills, it would make sense for K-12 students to have the same ability to create documentaries and remix video clips as higher-ed students. Especially as video editing software becomes more affordable and easier to use, it seems inevitable that, within the next few years, K-12 students will be clamoring for this ability.

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