In the latest development in a dispute with broad implications for colleges nationwide, UCLA says it will continue to stream online instructional videos to students. The move comes after a trade group urged the university to review copyright laws and threatened legal action if campus officials did not stop offering free unlimited access to the educational content.
UCLA officials suspended their streaming video program in January after the Association for Information Media Equipment (AIME)—a nonprofit organization that advocates for “fair and appropriate use of media”—said the university didn’t have permission to offer unlimited access to students through its password-protected class web sites.
A university IT official said March 3 that UCLA’s resumption of the streaming video initiative was a necessary stand against opponents of open access to educational resources.
“Course instruction long ago ceased to be bound by the walls of the classroom, and we are obligated to provide students with appropriate instructional content in whatever medium helps to foster an effective learning environment,” Jim Davis, UCLA’s vice provost for IT and chief academic technology officer, said in a statement. “We’re well aware the outcome of this dispute could affect other educational institutions, and it’s important that UCLA take a leadership role and demonstrate just how critical the appropriate use of technology is to our educational mission.”
The university described the temporary suspension of its video streaming as a “good-faith gesture” to keep the issue out of court after AIME said faculty members should obtain special streaming licenses before they use video in their classes.
UCLA’s legal team concluded that the streaming program was legal under the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act, which allows online transmission of copyright-protected works specifically for educational purposes.
Faculty members will have to spell out how online videos will supplement their course content before they are given permission to stream the content, according to the university’s policy.
UCLA officials expect the school’s video streaming to resume this spring.
“While we believe our previous protocols were consistent with applicable laws, this modification provides an extra layer of assurance and transparency so that we can resume streaming videos as soon as possible, rather than prolonging the impact on students and faculty through additional negotiations,” Davis said.
A big player in the educational copyright arena supported the university’s decision to move ahead with streaming content. The Library Copyright Alliance, whose members include the Association of Research Libraries and the American Library Association, said in a Feb. 19 statement that educators did not need a special license to use streaming video content as part of their courses.
“Educational institutions should know and exercise their rights to use copyrighted works to extend and enrich the classroom experience,” the organization said in its legal statement, adding that “works marketed primarily for the use in distance education would not fall within [provisions of the TEACH Act].”
Arnold Lutzker, an attorney for AIME, said in an eMail message to eCampus News that if UCLA’s streaming precedent isn’t challenged, every college and university in the country could buy one copy of a video and give free access to thousands of students every semester.
“As UCLA indicated, the decision was made unilaterally despite the expressed concern of AIME members and AIME’s effort to seek a fair and responsible solution to the dispute,” Lutzker said. “Based on the facts, UCLA’s justifications for the resumption of streaming … are legally flawed and fundamentally inconsistent with copyright law. The message that UCLA sent AIME and all its members is that they and literally every other university have every right to buy a single copy of a video and stream it to an unlimited number of students forever without permission or compensation to the creator.”
Lutzker continued: “Given that message, AIME members will necessarily consider all their legal options.”
UCLA’s streaming program started in 2005, when the school took faculty requests and collected and converted videos into a streaming format. The campus spends about $45,000 annually to buy media for classroom use, according to its March 3 announcement.
The streamed content—which includes foreign-language films and documentaries for history and sociology courses—is protected against file sharing and copying by students and faculty. The videos are only accessible through the university’s intranet, and students must use a password and prove they are enrolled in a specific course to watch the videos online.
The university will keep video streaming labs open for longer hours this semester. The Media Lab, where students go to watch streaming videos, will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, with more limited hours on Fridays and Sundays.
“The streaming video service directly benefits the learning experience of students,” said Robin Garrell, chair of UCLA’s Academic Senate and professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “It allows them the flexibility to view instructional materials at times that ensure maximum productivity, when they can best contemplate and respond to the materials, and it exposes them to a broader range of educational material.”
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