Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Media Literacy Lesson that Matters

As we teach 21st Century literacies, teaching copyright, copyleft, public domain, and other copyright friendly designations like those from Creative Commons often is met by disbelief if not resistance by the my so-called "digital native" students. (They may be native speakers but their digital literacy sometimes has as many problems as their English grammar!)

In November I noted the Center for Social Media recently release of the "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education" which will help teachers and students in the United States navigate copyright in the digital age. Now there's an interesting case at hand.

While working on video projects, my students point to all of the music and image that is being used on YouTube, while I point to the same as copyright infringement.

"But I bought the album, myself" students argues when I question if one got permission to lay down a commerical track, and "that gives you the privilege of playing it for yourself, not re-posting it in a video on the Web" is my response.

"How do you know if a photo is copyrighted if it doesn't say?" another student asks. "Assume it's 'all rights reserved," I remind. "Ask for permission," I coax. "Whenever I've asked for a photo to use in a non-commerical project I've received a "yes." A collective harrumph, says the digital native as he tromps back to Creative Commnons/Flickr.

Having done lessons on propaganda and advertising in the past, I know sometimes it's difficult to find examples from popular culture that students can understand and care about. Enter the Shepard Fairey /Associated Press /Mannie Garcia squabble over the famous and "Hope" poster of Barack Obama's likeness.

The Associated Press has claimed rights over a photo taken by free lance photographer Mannie Garcia and sought damages from Fairey who found inspiration in the photo for the iconic poster. Fairey has peremptorily sued AP citing "Fair Use" protects his work.

The upcoming ruling on this case may affect creative media use of intellectual property in ways important to digital natives (and immigrants) who use artistic content: how we download, remix and upload media in public spaces including the Internet.

National Public Radio's Fresh Air with Terry Gross presents a synopsis of all sides with fascinating interviews with Shepard and Garcia, a couple of official statements by AP, and commentary by Law Professor Greg Lastowka. All presented in nuggets of audio that can used easily to illuminate the key points and prompt discussion with students about media, artist expression, and copyright. The contemporary hipness and recognizable nature of the Hope poster, the clarity with which Shepard, who started as a skater-street-artist, talks of appropriating images for his graphics, and the implications hanging in the balance for our students and 21st Century media use combine to make this case perfect for students to consider. Thanks to Ms. Gross for her thoughtful, logical line of questions that layout a story's subtleties and nuances.

Obviously this story stands on its own for a lesson on media literacy. Also, it would work in with any study of propaganda--think Animal Farm or 1984. Fairey makes insightful comments on propaganda, the arts, and consumerism throughout. You'll find more of his iconographic street-graphic art at the Obey Giant website, which is a topic of discussion that brings up Orwell as an influence of Fairey's politic.

Image credit: Photo by Mannie Garcia for the Associated Press and Graphic by Shepard Fairey.