Today the Internet community is abuzz about a Pearson DMCA notice that took down edublogs.org and all of its 1.45 million+ student and teacher blogs. The odd thing is: practically none of the potential victims seems to have taken notice when it actually happened five days ago.
The takedown happened on October 10th and James Farmer of WPMU.org, the guys behind the multi user WordPress software that also runs WordPress.com, wrote an indepth article about the whole kerfuffle. To make it short and sweet: teacher shares a part of a book published by Pearson in 1974, adds questions and working guides to it, shares it on his edublog. Pearson finds it five years later, wants teacher to pay the $120 royalties, sends DMCA to the edublog.org webhoster. Webhoster pulls the plug for all edublog.org hosted blogs. But you should read Farmer’s entire post to get all the details.
Now, I won’t get into a rant about copyright protection, fair use and all that jazz, but this is another example of how broken the entire system is today. There is no doubt that Pearson has the legal right to collect the royalties, and there is also no question that the webhoster had the legal obligation to pull the plug but the reaction from both, Pearson and ServerBeach were way out of proportion and frankly ham handed.
As Farmer points out, why not contacting edublogs.org directly as the team already got a pretty straight forward and effective system of copyright protection in place? edublogs.org pays over $75.000 per year to ServerBeach, shouldn’t that lead to a slightly better customer care instead of sending out automated warning messages 12 hours before take down?
But to me the most interesting part of the whole story is the apparent silence of the edublogs.org management team and their users. Shouldn’t they have been the first to go on Twitter and start a riot?
Actually, the first reactions to this incident have just started to spread a couple of hours ago, based on posts by Ars Technica and techdirt that took Farmers post and spread the news.
If you search for “edublogs down” on Twitter and go back to October 10th you will find a mere two tweets about the incident. The first one comes from a teacher
Edublogs is down - noooooo! I've got kids working on a project.— Christine Voigt (@clvoigt) October 10, 2012
The second one is a retweet of Farmers post by a WordPress developer.
The first tweet about the techdirt article was by Baldur Bjarnarson about a day ago.
"Textbook Publisher Pearson Takes Down 1.5 Million Teacher And Student Blogs With A Single DMCA Notice" j.mp/TTKRyX— Baldur Bjarnason (@fakebaldur) October 15, 2012
And from then on the story got shared inside the tech and edtech community.
So, it took the education community five days to realize that their blogging platform was down due to a DMCA notice by one of the biggest textbook publishers. And either the edublogs.org team didn’t notice themselves or they prefer not to talk about it. In the news section I did not find an update on the issue and looking at the Twitter account, it seems to be handled as a non-issue as well.
Of course, this is also thanks to the team’s quick work that has tried to fix the issue and was behind it all the time. It could have been much worse than the one hour edublogs.org was down, apparently.
But looking back at the days when the popular platform Ning was going premium and teachers were brewing up a sh*tstorm (pardon my French) that led Pearson to sponsoring educational Nings I am a bit disappointed about the overall reactions so far. What about fair use or protecting a fellow teacher to pay $120 for the right to share a document with his class?
Again, it is not about the rightfulness of the entire process but there should be a general discussion about copyright protection and fair use in education. And an incident like this could serve as a good basis. Unfortunately, the Internet community has a short memory and therefore will move on pretty quickly.
Picture by Gus Pasquerella [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons