GRU Librarian reflects on new “CopyrightX” MOOC

Waggoner-Angleton at GRU Education Day

How do I find educational and professional development opportunities?  Let me count the ways…

One of the ways is to participate in a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course.  Some of the most respected names in higher education are participating in MOOCs, with the earliest in the United States probably being the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies OpenCourse Ware.

If you were a librarian with a penchant for copyright issues In the winter and spring of 2013 -,   the MOOC Copyrightx*  was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Developed by Professor Terry Fisher of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and delivered on an edx platform, Copyrightx*  was intended to familiarize participants with current copyright law and foster an awareness about the strengths and weaknesses of the current system while encouraging thought on how copyright law might be changed for the better.  As Jeri Zeder points out,  in the Summer 2013 Harvard Law Bulletin, “MOOCs typically feature open enrollment—attracting as many as 150,000 registrants—without the sort of expertly guided, real-time discussion you would experience in a small classroom seminar.”  Fisher built a MOOC model which kept the accessibility of traditional MOOCS while capturing some of learning benefits of a small classroom seminar.

First Fisher turned his MOOC into a LOOC (Large Open Online Course).  Rather than 150,000 registrants, the course load was capped at 500 registrants, chosen from a pool of applicants who specifically petitioned for the opportunity to join.  Students had to agree to participate in once a week seminars with 25 other students mentored by a Teaching Assistant (TA), meet other attendance criteria, view all the pre-recorded lectures, do selected outside readings, attend a selection of live lecture panels and take an online written exam.  Other than having access to study notes, online examinees sat the same exam that Fisher’s TAs and Spring 2013 tuition-paying students took at the end of the course.

Carol Waggoner-Angleton, Special Collections Librarian at GRU’s Reese Library, was one of those librarians who like to contemplate copyright conundrums   Accepted for a section, she found herself learning about both US and international copyright law with a corporate lawyer from India, a barrister from London, a superior court judge from Brazil, and Heather Whitney, a teaching assistant with a gift for unconventional case studies.  Heather used the copyright dispute between photographer David LaChapelle  and pop singer Rhianna over Rhianna’s single “S&M’, the you tube site “Cake Wreaks” and photographs of her argyle sweater wearing French bulldog to discuss concepts such as originality, joint authorship, and creativity.  “You really know you are in with the right crowd, when you spend an hour debating whether a really unappetizing-looking cake is creative enough to receive copyright protection and whether the cake has an author or should be considered a work for hire,” said Waggoner-Angleton.

Waggoner-Angleton feels the most important lesson she learned was that there are no hard and fast answers in copyright law.  There are only four cases on copyright that have been ruled on by the US Supreme Court; the rest is educated judgment.  She felt that this class provided her with the analytical tools to decide whether certain actions, such as; posting a photograph, digitizing a document, or creating an online exhibit were reasonable risks for her department and her patrons. “You will always be doing an analysis when determining copyright infringement; is there a minimal risk or a substantial risk.  In the present copyright climate, no choice is risk-free.”

The next version of the course will start in January of 2014. If you might be interested in participating, please send an email message to Copyrightx*; and the course coordinators will notify you when the applications are being accepted.

Waggoner-Angleton warns that to get the most out of Copyrightx* you have to take it as seriously as any other course.  “It really is an intense 12 week commitment. Ideally you’ll need to work at least 8 hours a week listening to the lectures, reading the additional material, taking notes, and preparing for your session.  It took about six hours with a sandwich break to write the final exam.  But if you are one of the students that meets the course requirements and makes that passing mark (Waggoner-Angleton was one of 192 students from a class of 500 to successfully complete the course), you feel pretty proud of that certificate of achievement.  Copyrightx* becomes an important addition to your professional development as a librarian.”