Saturday, July 07, 2007

Guitar Heroes for Zeros

A recent story, "YouTube Guitar Lessons Pulled in Copyright Spat," about how YouTube was receiving take-down notices in connection with online tutorial videos for learning to play the guitar should be getting more attention from the distance learning community.

According to National Public Radio, free lessons that used copyrighted material from guitar classics were being ignored while those that charged for their services were being targeted with the threat of legal action. It's tricky, because many of us who teach in traditional classrooms feel protected by the fair use exemptions from copyright law for educators when we play a clip of music for our students, but our colleagues who deliver instruction online are obviously creating a reified incriminating artifact that digitally preserves what would otherwise be an ephemeral instance of replication in the interest of education.

Although NPR made charging or not charging for instruction the determining issue for purposes of the story, I think this kind of analysis misses an opportunity to clarify the fair use principle, which also provides some immunity from prosecution to selective and expensive private institutions. Furthermore, the supposedly "okay" samples from the non-charging teacher were pulled from YouTube as well, by the time I checked, so it seemed that rock composers were taking a hard line on their intellectual property after all.

Of course, in addition to being an academic, I'm a guitar player myself, who as a teen benefited from excellent live instruction from private lessons with Pierre Smith, who played first in the punk and later in the alternative L.A. scenes with bands like The New Marines, El Vez, and Kristian Hoffman. So I watched the videos of both teachers in the story and compared their pedagogical styles with Smith as my standard for best practices. I much preferred Justin Sandercoe's low key affect to David Taub's high-testosterone pitches and cliff-hanger techniques. Besides, the forums of Taub's site were also full of justifications for their advertising policies and profit-making click-through techniques. Nonetheless, I did appreciate the wistful protest song still on YouTube that Taub's partner wrote about how strumming a few harmless chords didn't constitute infringement.

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