Being trolled by Twentieth Century Fox

"You're tearing my textbook apart! Oh hai copyright trolls."

“You’re tearing my textbook apart! Oh hai copyright trolls.”

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might remember some posts a while back about creating a digital textbook for my Film classes. I made one, it was beautiful, but it (maybe, possibly, kinda, sorta) ran afoul of copyright and intellectual property law. So I contacted every film studio to ask for help. Save for one studio and Charlie Chaplin’s estate, they responded as follows:

  • Hahahahahahahaha no. No. NO. Hahahaha.
  • Hmm. No. No, no, no, no. Nope. Well, actua– no, still no.
  • Who are you? Leave us alone.
  • Use whatever you like! $5000 per second of footage. You said you’re a school teacher, right? So you guys have plenty of dough.

So I took everything cool out of my book. I didn’t even take the one cool studio up on their offer for fear that some trademark goon would be patrolling the iBookstore looking for my one grainy still of Spider Man. It still kills me. I had this one section with side by side comparisons of the Odessa Steps sequence in the Battleship Potemkin and Psycho’s shower scene, and this other– sorry. No sense crying over spilled milk.

I had moved on from the whole affair when I got an email from an employee of Twentieth Century Fox who shall remain nameless, since I’m not sure if they have exclusive rights to print and use her name. Might get sued.

I was going to publish my entire exchange with the copyright trolls at Twentieth Century Fox, but then I realized that they would probably send studio agents crashing through our office windows as DMCA takedown notices rained down from the sky. So instead, let me post an opinion piece:

Don’t be such jerks.

I wrote you specifically because I am trying to clear every sample (so to speak) in my digital film textbook. I wrote you to ask about establishing protocols that would allow educators to license material for limited periods at little or no cost. I wrote you because I thought you might be interested in making the lives of thousands of educators better, and making the resources we create for students more engaging. And in the process expose tens of thousands of students in my iTunes U film course (or just the hundreds who pass through my class) to your amazing library of genre- and era-defining films.

I thought you might be interested in providing entree into the rich worlds of film analysis and production, especially since your studio is behind classics like The Sound of Music, The French Connection, FIght Club, Alien, and hundreds more, many of which my students will be studying. My students will also be learning how to promote a film; I can’t imagine what harm would come if they were allowed to study a press kit from a major studio. Can you?

Please don't arrest me.

They see me trollin’ teachers…I’m tryin’ ta catch them when they writin’ dirty…”

So maybe you’re a reader thinking, “These places exist to make money. Why would they care about education? Why do they have to help you? You’re the jerk!” I have two responses:

  1. Maybe, but I’m a righteously angry jerk now.
  2. Fox like most studios has an entire division devoted to licensing clips. Offering a simple short-term license for education professionals would be relatively simple (and in fact one studio made this offer; more on them in a subsequent post). Either way, there’s no need to send me a vaguely threatening form letter as a follow-up to the $5000 per unit offer (or whatever it was).

So there ends the dream. If you think you have special rights as a teacher, you’re mostly wrong. Last time I wrote an entry like this, someone popped up in the comments to say, “You’re suffering from copyright confusion! We do have rights!” The next day, Edublogs’ 1.45 million teacher blogs were taken offline due to ONE SINGLE DMCA NOTICE. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect object lesson.

This is just another reminder that new laws and regulations continue to chip away at the rights we’ve always assumed we had as teachers. The right to use outside sources in our instructional material, the right to distribute course packs and teacher-created resources, and the right to expose our students to the world beyond the classroom through mediated and unmediated activities are being taken away from us in the interest of enormous, rich corporations protecting assets that are in no way threatened by educational use.

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