Keeping Things Legal and Ethical

In 1999, my brother Luke and his friend Glenn helped me make a video presentation for Year 11 English. We all hated giving speeches, so we took the filmmaking option whenever we had the chance – in fact, it wasn’t even really an option (I’m pretty sure we were the only ones at the school who ever made videos in this way, at least in our time there), but the teachers always seemed happy for us to innovate. In this particular video, I needed to respond in some way to Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, so I scripted a court case set in the present where the murderous defendant (Macbeth) tried to justify his treasonous and murderous actions… to Judge Judy Sheindlin.

According to the opening voiceover of the immensely successful courtroom Reality TV program, Judge Judy: ‘The people are real! The cases are real! The rulings are final! This is her courtroom! This is Judge Judy!’ Well, we were the exceptions in this case: the people weren’t real, and it was our courtroom. Using two VCRs, I edited footage of my brother and I arguing on camera as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Malcolm together with extracts from one or two episodes of the popular American series. The editing was far from perfect, but we pulled off some humerous gags at the expense of Judge Judy and/or ourselves and it got us an A+. We were content.

Macbeth screenshot.png
Macbeth (left) and Malcolm in a masterful Shakespearean adaptation from the year 1999. Screenshot of unpublished video.

When we made that video, we had absolutely no awareness of Copyright law – nor would our teachers have, for that matter. We certainly didn’t have any means of distributing it more widely back then: our family would only get the Internet the following year and YouTube wouldn’t be born for some years! We just took the VHS cassette we made into class, rolled the old TV and VCR into the room, played the video for our teacher and peers, then left the cassette sitting in a drawer alongside the others for years until I decided they needed to be digitised or we’d lose them forever. Of course, the ‘Macbeth vs. Judge Judy’ video we put together would easily pass the ‘parody’ test by any standards and it would for this reason be more than fine to use in pretty much whatever way I wanted to. But as much as I would love to upload this and some of my other old videos to my YouTube channel – if only to give my family an easy venue to revisit them when they wanted to reminisce or just remember how stupid we were as kids – I’ve hesitated from doing so for the sole reason that I don’t want to risk giving the wrong impression to the students I’m now asking to make the videos to show their teacher, their peers, and the world.

Understanding when source material can and cannot be used is so crucial for those seeking to work in contemporary media and cultural industries. While students may have a greater measure of flexibility than employed media practitioners while they remain students, it’s crucial they learn about and demonstrate their understanding of issues like Copyright and Creative Commons in their ePortfolios – which are exactly what those aforementioned media practitioners want to see when they are seeking new media professionals to employ in their companies. Having witnessed an overall lack of awareness in this area over several years, this is why you are currently reading this blog post and, if you’d like to know more, viewing the various materials posted below…

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