Reviewed June 2019
Chelsea M. Stone, Photo Research & Permissions Librarian
Copyright for Educators & Librarians is an online course taught by Kevin Smith, M.L.S., J.D. (Duke University Librarian), Lisa A. Macklin, J.D.,M.L.S. (Emory University), and Anne Gilliland, JD, MLS (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill). The course is hosted on Coursera, which partners with organizations and universities to offer online courses online, including an optional electronic certificate. Copyright for Educators & Librarians aims to quell the fears and anxieties that educational professionals and librarians encounter when trying to navigate United States Copyright Law. Users learn how to analyze copyright law to empower and benefit their educational purposes, although the course is aimed at general purposes rather than art-specific contexts. Additionally, this course is most relevant for those operating in the United States, although it does address some international treaties.
There are two options for participating in this course: 1) free, sans certificate or 2) $49, with certificate. Users must create an account in order to access and complete the course - no special technology is required, beyond a web browser. The price is reasonable compared to other professional development opportunities, such as a copyright course at a law school or attending a professional conference. The commitment is projected to be 5 weeks (2-3 hours per week); however, videos, readings, and quizzes can be completed by an individual at her own pace. In order to successfully complete the course, one must pass all the weekly quizzes with a minimum of 70 percent. Users can take the quizzes an unlimited number of times, but are limited to 3 attempts in 8 hours. The final “exercise” is a more robust version of the quizzes, requiring participants to use the critical thinking and knowledge that the course aims to teach.
The Coursera platform is user-friendly and easy to navigate. Users are automatically directed through the course, which tracks progress. The platform offers suggested deadlines to assist users with time management and completion goals. These deadlines can also be personalized to allow for more time for completion if needed. The content of the course is clearly outlined and described, and the delivery is appropriate for the information being conveyed. The option to read the highlighted transcription with a video thumbnail will be appealing for some users and makes the content more accessible, for example for those with hearing loss. Coursera includes additional features for those with accessibility considerations. For hearing loss, lectures offer closed-caption subtitles or downloadable subtitles to read. Many features are compatible with screen readers for the visually impaired. Lectures can be watched multiple times and paused to allow for note-taking and comprehension. These are just a few examples of accommodations for users with learning disabilities.
The information in the video lectures and readings was well-organized, with ample useful examples of case law and practical applications. Film and video use was discussed at some length, but there was a gap in discussing the use of copied images, digital copies of visual art/architecture, and the like. Although the course does touch upon the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) and photographing buildings in public places, there is a distinct lack of examples that address the specific concerns of those librarians and educators focusing on the use of visual works such as art and architecture. With regard to case law specifically addressing visual works, architecture, etc., the course creators missed an opportunity to use visual aids to more powerfully illustrate the issues. There was a fairly extensive history of the development of early copyright laws in England, which was interesting but perhaps a bit lengthy in relation to the objectives of the course. Overall, the instructors are quite enthusiastic about leading the user on her journey to become a “copyright Maven,” which is the tagline for the course. The lectures are also supplemented with quality and authoritative readings, which supply additional information and resources. Having digital access to creative commons and openly-licensed materials is convenient and reduces barriers, as opposed to being required to purchase reading materials.
The high quality of the information in this course surpasses the quality of the video lectures themselves. The sound is clear and well-produced, but more effective execution and use of the videos would enhance the use of them as a learning tool. The potential for video lectures and visuals to be engaging and add value to the information was underutilized. For example, the conversational method of conveying information was directed between lecturers more often than at the audience and lacked a natural tone and was forced rather than enhancing the information being conveyed. There was some use of slides and visuals in the videos, but not consistently. Additionally, there were inconsistencies in the scenery and location in which the lectures were recorded, which was distracting.
Copyright for Educators & Librarians is a valuable introductory course for its target audience. Sharing this information through video lectures, supplemental readings, and quizzes helpfully compiles resources and offers a structured way to learn about copyright instead of ad hoc learning. Art librarians may be frustrated with the lack of reference to visual concerns. As a good foundation in United States copyright law, however, the course will still be pertinent to arts-focused librarians and educators, although it will require them to make some of their own connections and delve deeper into some of the topics of most concern to them.