hopelessness and copyright

This post justifies the mostly in this blog’s title.

Part one: A number of my friends were tweeting about the confounding news that a DMCA takedown notice resulted in 1.5 million Edublogs being taken down in one swoop, because of some seven year old content from one blogger that has been apparently sitting around on the web unnoticed. Follow the link to the story, because it’s both interesting and frightening. It strikes most educators as overkill, especially after the specific content had been taken offline, but as the story reports, the web host was accused of still having the content on its servers, and so it simply shut down all the Edublog servers.

our hosting company, ServerBeach, to whom we pay $6,954.37 every month to host Edublogs, turned off our webservers, without notice, less than 12 hours after issuing us with a DMCA email

It’s a lesson about copyright, and no one denies, I don’t think, the inappropriate posting of that content of “279” words online. My work in faculty development has shown me that fair use is still widely misunderstood among educators, mostly because teachers think in terms of what seems fair to them and whether their intentions are ethical and aimed at education, not publishing. And that’s where it becomes all muddied in their minds. Publishing on the Internet changed everything about fair use because unless you are streaming content that cannot be downloaded, all your posted material is a right-click away, regardless of whether you think it’s harmless for your students to have that image or document or text.

Unfortunately, copyright is not going to be the lesson learned from this case. Instead, it will be that publishers and web-hosting services are bullies, even and especially educational publishers like Pearson in this case.

This is not a problem that higher education institutions can completely solve, either, since faculty are creating course content all over the web in blogs and wikis that are outside of the control of their institutions. Educating faculty about copyright can still be a goal, assistance can be offered, but enforcement will be out of our hands.

Part two: I’m fascinated by the subject of the controversy, the Beck Hopelessness Scale, referred to in the reports as “Beck’s Hopelessness Scale.” I first thought of Jeff Beck and wondered if it was an album or whether he also had a writing career. Then I remembered that there is a more contemporary musician named Beck and thought that hopelessness seemed like a recent mood in popular music. I even wondered if they meant Beckett by mistake and that someone had interpreted his absurdist drama in a hopeless light.

Turns out it’s actually a quiz of twenty questions to determine how likely you are to commit suicide. Let me say right off that I have not seen the questions and know pretty much nothing about psychological counseling, and my opinion of the topic is more my reaction to the idea of such a quiz.

I don’t like the idea of my hopelessness or, as the product documentation states, my “negative attitudes about the future” being neatly determined by a quiz, any more than I like that scale of pain doctors are so fond of in recent years, which is totally meaningless except to get your impression of your pain. I think I would be depressed just seeing all the questions in one place. Neither would I want to be evaluated strictly on that one category. Even when I hold out no hope in some areas, I am still able to have moments of joy in others and I would prefer to live with that mix than to focus on the negative–if I can, of course. More than anything, I’m freaked out by the category hopelessness and the possibility you might be diagnosed as hopeless! Why couldn’t it have been the Beck Hope Scale?

*If any of my readers, of course, are feeling so hopeless that it’s unbearable, I hope they will seek help, even if it involves taking this poorly named quiz.

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Categories: copyright, education, technology

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