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Just in Time for Back-To-School: DVD Copyright Changes

Back to School DVD Ripping? The U.S. Library of Congress announced changes that allow duplication of DVDs for some educators, so long as they are for use in the classroom.


Teachers affirmed right to present DVDs for educational purposes just days before school starts for many districts. But the law really doesn’t change anything for most teachers.

Less than a week after the U.S. Copyright Office ruled that certain instances of DVD ripping was o.k. so long as it’s for educational purposes, teachers across the United States are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Often considered an old standby lesson plan when teachers take a day off, interactive lesson plans that incorporate video programs on commercial DVDs may move to the head of the class.

But days before the bell rings to signal the start of the 2010-2011 school year, teachers are cleaning up their classrooms and creating DVD-based lesson plans for their first week back to campus.  But ambiguity in the Copyright Law may lead some teachers to take freedoms they don’t have. It all comes down to what grade and subject you teach.

Legal Fight Ahead

Some proponents of the new copyright changes claim that the changes don’t mean much to the average teacher, since most of their lesson plans are dependent upon video broadcasts that are officially approved for use by their respective school systems anyway. Others say there will be legal battles brewing over the changes for years to come. The truth about DVD editing and conversions may lie somewhere in the middle.

One thing is for sure though; confusion over copyright changes in the United States Digital Millennium Act may lead to some school districts banning the use of DVDs for educational purposes for fear of legal action being taken against teachers who violate the law unintentionally.

Librarian of Congress has Spoken

Specifically, the copyright changes that relate to educators (primary, secondary and/or college) state:

“What the record does demonstrate is that college and university educators, college and university film and media studies students, documentary filmmakers, and creators of noncommercial videos frequently make and use short film clips from motion pictures to engage in criticism or commentary about those motion pictures, and that in many cases it is necessary to be able to make and incorporate high-quality film clips in order effectively to engage in such criticism or commentary. In such cases, it will be difficult or impossible to engage in the noninfringing use without circumventing CSS in order to make high-quality copies of short portions of the motion pictures. Because not all uses by educators, documentary filmmakers or makers of noncommerical videos will be noninfringing or will require such high-quality copies, the class of works recommended by the Register is not as extensive as what was requested by some proponents, and the class contains some limitations. First, proponents for educators failed to demonstrate that high- quality resolution film clips are necessary for K-12 teachers and students, or for college and university students other than film and media studies students. Because other means, such as the use of screen capture software, exist that permit the making of lower-quality film clips without circumventing access controls, the Register finds no justification in the record for expanding the class of works to include such persons as express beneficiaries of the designation of this class of works.”

-          Dated: July 20, 2010 James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress

So in a sense, the copyright law didn’t change much for educators who were already allowed to show commercial movies and television productions in their classrooms. They are bound to showing only commercial videos in low resolution format — at least in theory.  Of course there are some teachers and school librarians on the fringes of copyright law due to the fact that they make DVD copies without consent of school officials — a practice that’s hard to regulate.

The only thing the U.S. Copyright Office did last week was to formalize that teachers didn’t need to be considered a special class for an exemption.

© 2010, edocsmike. Business Results Systems, Inc. – All rights reserved.

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