Monday, June 3, 2013


Earlier in the school year, I worked with the Media Literacy class planning a school-wide lipdub project. My role was primarily to help them think about fair use and copyright. It's something I take seriously, but it is also a topic on which my thoughts have evolved.

The main question students ask me, especially when talking about music and YouTube is "how can so many other people do it and nothing happens?" and I haven't found it an easy question to answer. Over the last several years, YouTube has become adept at monetizing content with copyrighted material, but shouldn't we always try to do it the "right way" and ask permission? What about lipdub as parody and the doctrine of fair use?

For the high school project, students dutifully sent off email requests to the publishers (and the process of identifying the proper license holder is not particularly easy). The response to their first choice, "It's Always a Good Time" came back with a harsh negative, which wasn't surprising. There were no other lipdubs on YouTube for that song. There were however, dozens of examples of "Chasing the Sun" and "Firework", so they attempted to contact the publishers for permission. They waited... And the window of opportunity for the filming narrowed. What to do? The Media Literacy instructor and I said, "go ahead" and they made a great little video while learning a lot about planning, working with large groups, and video editing. 

Prior to working with the Media Literacy class, I scoured the library literature, blogs and posted several queries on Twitter in reference to student lipdub projects and staying within the spirit of the copyright guidelines. I found very little and no one responded on Twitter, even though it is obvious that hundreds of schools are doing these videos. The one exception was a very helpful colleague right in our own backyard, Andrew Eley, Principal at Wilson Middle School, who was involved with the making of a libdub at Jefferson High School last spring. We shared a google doc with questions and he provided some great tips, but that was the extent of our practical advice and we plowed on.

During this time frame, a blog post came through my RSS reader, "Copyright questions and online learning". It, along with the writing of Joyce Valenza tipped me over to the less conservative view of copyright and students, especially when it comes to creation/mashup.

  1. Will the district get in trouble for posting lips dub video on YouTube? Probably not. Few music copyright holders seem to object to this use of their music - some feeling it is good promotion for their commercial work. It could be argued fair use if it meets some educational goal. It doubt such a use would have an impact on the market for the work. (I'm not going to buy "Call Me Maybe"  now that I can watch Mrs. Jones 3rd graders lip syncing it on YouTube? Yeah, right.) Worst that could happen is that the music owner would add an advertisement or ask that it be removed. Personally, I'd feel more comfortable with a mix of parts of songs rather than a single entire work, but that's me. (See EFF's Guide to YouTube Removals.)
So, this is where the video linked at the top of the page comes in. For years I've wanted to do a lipdub with students at the elementary school, but it just hasn't happened. This year, I delegated to the students. I did pick out the music (the karaoke version of Gangnam Style), but a 4th grade team wrote their own lyrics and plotted out the "choreography" on a storyboard. Because time was limited (the last week of school), we didn't use a lot of video, but I think they came up with a pretty cute video to show at the end of the year assembly. The student body and staff loved it.

I uploaded the video to YouTube this afternoon and almost immediately received a notice from YouTube that it had detected copyright audio and I clicked acknowledge to 3rd party content. We'll see what happens from here.

And that denied music from Owl City? A school from Texas posted a cute video a couple weeks ago using that song as background. The whole student body was involved, along with silly string and pounds of confetti. I showed it to several classes and they loved it. Then one day it was gone. Replaced with this notice:

And now I have another question to answer from students: why would they do this? I really don't know.

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