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Copyright: Promoting Progress

Written by Joseph Conroy
October 29, 2010

In the summer of 2009, I came across the work of Renee Hobbs and the Media Education Lab through the Powerful Voices Institute held at the Russel A. Byers charter school in Philadelphia, PA. The week-long institute brought together teachers from across the country, graduate students from Temple University’s education program, and students participating in the charter school’s summer media literacy program. Powerful Voices exposed this cohort to various critical thinking tools to deconstruct media messages, and the Institute also provided a repertoire of techniques to integrate the creation of media into the content areas.

In order to analyze media, we first needed to bring it into the classroom and under the microscope of critical thinking. On the flip-side, the Powerful Voices group needed an ample palette of media in various forms—audio, image, and video—to assemble our own media messages. The need to access media for educational purposes jettisoned the Institute right into the middle of the copyright dilemma I had previously encountered in my own attempts to bring technology into the classroom. Until then, I had always presumed the writ of copyright was intended to protect intellectual property through outright prohibition of the duplication of copyrighted works.

Renee Hobbs delved into the topic of copyright confusion. She pointed back to Section 8 of the United States Constitution that empowers Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This section protects the rights of authors, artists, and inventors to profit from their works within their lifetime. Without gainful pay, there would be very little incentive to write, create, and discover.

This notion challenged my unfounded assumptions that copyright was merely a tool for corporate gain. It made me question how academic progress protected under the U.S. Constitution related to my students and their media projects, especially if my students’ learning experiences by creating media messages wouldn’t compromise the owners’ ability to financially gain from our use of an intellectually protected work.



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