MPAA – Camming Movies is an Acceptable Practice (for Teachers)

The fair use community of the United States is abuzz over a video clip that shows how the MPAA feels that educational exception should operate. A number of people are already absolutely stunned not just the method the MPAA proposed, but how they presented the idea as well.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There’s plenty of places to find this story now. One way is to find it on BoingBoing. What’s causing the stir is the MPAAs demonstration video on how an educational fair use – showing a video clip for educational purposes – can be obtained by the teachers. “In 2006,” the video description says, “film and media professors were granted an exemption in order to break copy protection on DVDs so that they could utilize high quality video clips in classroom teaching. Up for consideration during the 2009 exemption hearings is whether this exemption should be extended to apply to faculty teaching in all disciplines, and whether the exemption should apply to students.”

For our readers who are still stuck on 56k modems thanks to, say, a local duopoly of ISPs who deem your area not profitable enough to extend their networks to your home even though the local government gave them money and/or the resources to do so, here’s a description of what goes on in the video. An MPAA official narrates a demonstration video on how teachers can extract a required 18 second video clip from a movie. The video shows a woman, presumably your average teacher, hooking up a chord to a camcorder that’s already hooked up to a DVD player. The narrator describes how this method can be used to obtain multiple clips from multiple discs by simply recording and playing and stopping the camera’s recording. The woman then, as described by the narrator, frames the television set with the camera, making sure that the TV set sides, a large wide screen plat panel TV, is not showing while none of the picture is actually cut off. Not wanting to bore the audience, he stops the clip so he can go over the results of the practise, also revealing he was using VLC in his presentation. He then goes over a series of short clips, trying to show that it’s still high quality. At the end, comparing the actual clip from the DVD to the camcorded version. What is also emphasized is that this is using a standard DVD.

The most obvious ironic thing about this is the fact that the MPAA has been waging a war against people who take cameras into theatres and record the movie. The comparable practise that was demonstrated here is known as a telesync which is known to be the method to getting a higher quality cam in the theatre.

Another thing that’s ironic about the clip is the use of VLC. While we weren’t able to find any verifiable reference on what the MPAA thinks of VLC, we do know that the MPAA has been pounding RealNetworks over alleged ease of bi-passing encryption through RealDVD – thus leading to a very simple conclusion that technology such as VLC wouldn’t be allowed to flourish on US soil given that it’s known to read so many codecs.

Another ironic part about this is the use of the camera itself. Why this is significant, one would have to really dig around a news archive from 2002. The example we came up with comes from the EFF at Lawyerpoint which has the following:

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed the “Content Protection Status Report” with the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, laying out its plan to remake the technology world to suit its own ends. The report calls for regulation of analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), generic computing components found in scientific, medical and entertainment devices. Under its proposal, every ADC will be controlled by a “cop-chip” that will shut it down if it is asked to assist in converting copyrighted material — your cellphone would refuse to transmit your voice if you wandered too close to the copyrighted music coming from your stereo.

One final thing that we can safely note that’s ironic about this is the portrayal of what is suppose to be an average teacher exercising fair use rights. The equipment itself, given the common budget of a school like high schools, how realistic is it that the average teacher would just happen to have a nice expensive spare big screen television set, a high quality camera that is suppose to pick up on the video in a reasonably clear scenario, an assistant to watch their every move, a large open space to work with and that much free time to sit and figure out how to put together such a supposedly simple set-up? Particularly when there are a number of teachers out there that just bring DVDs into the class, skip to the scene and just show the scene in question in the first place? It’s likely that the MPAA just wants to prevent any more exceptions from happening and make the act of fair use as difficult to accomplish as possible.

What isn’t shown in the video is how to convert the footage on a camera (many of which uses tapes like the MiniDV tape) and converting that footage over to a format that is recognized by the player in the classroom. There’s two possible methods of accomplishing this, neither of which is easy (as easy as just playing the DVDs in the classroom that is).

One way is to hook up an IEEE fire wire cable to the camera, hook it up to a computer that hopefully recognizes the signal. Transfer the footage over, hoping there’ll be enough room on that hard drive. Then editing the footage through video editing software like Adobe Premier or Sony Vegas (both of which are, of course, cheap and easy to use pieces of software for such a task), then encoding the finished video into, preferably, an MPEG2/broadcast ready format, making sure to have specific scenes in the footage that the DVD players CSS would recognize for ease of use naturally, burning the footage onto a DVD and then playing that footage to your class. These are just minor details of course.

The other possible method is to take the camera into the classroom, having studied whatever entertainment system that classroom has available of course. Next is bringing compatible audio and video cords, properly routing the signals to the equipment like a television set, setting up the television set or viewing screen so it will properly read the signals and display what you want (a step teachers, of course, universally accept is such a pain free step) then playing the footage via the camera. Again, just minor details.

Let’s just hope that teachers would just be granted the exception so they can exercise their fair use rights.

Further reading:

Michael Geist’s observations on this

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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