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The Rules: Understanding Copyright (Animated Edition)

Despite the juvenile cartoon approach (shades of Donny the Downloader, anyone?), I felt compelled to watch YouTube’s educational copyright video through to the end even though I hadn’t been required to and it didn’t exactly seem age-appropriate. I was hoping it would provide a clear distillation of the complex world of copyright (at least the basic points), something I could pass along when people asked me if I could help them better understand what they could and could not do with IP online.

I found the “be afraid, be very afraid” vibe to stifle the educational mission of the video, however, especially when you get to the “fair use” portion and the narrator skims through the finer points like it’s a list of pharmaceutical side effects. Before Russell, our little pirate friend, can actually learn anything he’s so confused that he vomits on his shoes (0:59).

Clearly there are numerous facets to this important issue. As a result, whenever a piece of it is brought up for discussion it tends to generate an avalanche of passionate commentary representing all quarters. This seems a very good thing when it comes to developing a rulebook that can handle the rapidly evolving social and technological landscape we find ourselves creating and earning a paycheck in. For Russell’s sake, not to mention anyone without the resources to consult a copyright attorney, I only wish there were better tools to guide us. In an age when you can shoot, edit, and distribute a video with just some free time and your cellphone, we need more than cartoon characters and fear to find a way forward.

UPDATE: Even the people charged with making the rules appear to be somewhat confused.


  1. “But the wise know that foolish legislation is a rope of sand, which perishes in the twisting; that the State must follow, and not lead the character and progress of the citizen; the strongest usurper is quickly got rid of; and they only who build on Ideas, build for eternity; and that the form of government which prevails, is the expression of what cultivation exists in the population which permits it.”
    –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Politics” (1844)

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