Two generally unrelated thoughts on changes to copyright

I don’t follow copyright/DMCA issues that closely, but there was apparently an important decision from some changes to interpretations to the law.  Here’s a link with the technical stuff. The two changes I’ve read about so far are it is now legal get around various copy-protection schemes on materials like movies for educational purposes, and it is also now legal (at least according this link) to “jailbreak” an iPhone.

My two thoughts:

First, Copyright law, always complex and mushy and interpretable, is widely misunderstood and/or ignored in academia.  It is by me.  Take eReserves, for example, something I was discussing with a colleague the other day in relation to course packs.  At EMU, eReserves is the library’s “electronic reserve” system that allows someone like me to put various copyright-protected materials “on reserve” in the form of PDFs that students can download for free.   Many institutions have such systems.  The advantage of eReserves for me is I can add and subtract readings whenever, including the middle of the term (that’s just flat-out impossible with a course pack), and “free” is obviously much cheaper than even the most inexpensive course pack.  But as I understand it, it is actually illegal to repeatedly make available for free some copyright-protected text via this system.  In other words, with essays I teach pretty much every term, like Walter Ong’s “Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought,” I’m supposed to put that into a course pack so that the copyright is cleared and students pay the royalty.  Another example:  as I understand it, if I show a movie in a class, I’m technically supposed to pay the copyright holders of that film some sort of screening fee, unless I’m showing something that the university has already paid some sort of royalty on already.  (I may be very wrong about this one).

The point is this:  I don’t know anyone who treats eReserves this way, I wouldn’t even think of asking for permission to show a movie in a class, and I don’t really care about these potential copyright violations for admittedly mushy and ignorant reasons.  The way I figure it, no one is going to sue me over eReserves or showing a movie in a class or committing any other copyright crime; at worse, they are going to send me a “cease and desist” letter.  Instead of worrying about the legal ramifications of getting various permissions for use of these materials in my classes, I worry about how reading the things I assign might actually “teach” my students something.  Let the lawyers sort out the copyright violations.

Second, I have been thinking lately about jailbreaking my iPhone.  As most 3G users know, the new iPhone 4 operating system slows and/or crashes older phones.  Quite a bit, actually.  Eventually, I’ll get a new phone, though I am not entirely sure when.  On the “early-side,” maybe I’ll try to justify the iPhone 4 as some sort of Christmas present; on the “late-side,” maybe I’ll hold out for whatever is next (iPhone 5? iPhone 4S?), which, according to MacRumors (they say that the average “update” cycle for the iPhone is 218 days), would probably be sometime between about March and May 2011.  So in the meantime, I kind of feel like I have nothing to lose with attempting the various jailbreak options that are out there; heck, it might even help my older phone work “better.”

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