Copyright in the “digital age”

Have students go to the U.S. Copyright Office website and read about the definition and purpose of copyright protections (they should link to “Copyright Basics”). Discuss the reasons why copyright protections exist and the how authors, musicians, etc. might be affected if there were no copyright laws.Read the background of the Napster case to the class:

A&M Records vs Napster. Discuss the two sides of the argument and the reasons why record producers are so concerned about Web sites such as Napster. Are students familiar with this case? What do they think about it and about the idea of free music sources that circumvent traditional music purchasing? Is it stealing?

Have students write essays answering the question “Should copyright law prohibit the exchange of written or musical materials over the Internet?” You might want to have them do more research on this topic before answering this question.

Making a Political TV Commercial

Have students go to the PBS Democracy Project “Tricks of the Trade” page and create political TV ads in favor of and against this candidate. They will see how easy it is to manipulate some basic video footage to express support or opposition for a candidate. Discuss the implications of these techniques, and ask students to watch for these techniques being used in real TV commercials they see, either for political candidates, issues, or products.

Political Cartoons

Have students browse through some political cartoons at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists Web site. Ask them to describe what some of the cartoons say about political issues they address and explain reasons why can be effective. points view do cartoonists take in each one?

Have each student choose a cartoon. Ask them to draw new cartoons that take the opposite perspective of the one they’ve selected. Ask them to share the original and new cartoons with the class and to discuss the purpose and effectiveness of political cartoons.

Wag the Dog

Show students excerpts from the movie Wag the Dog, in which a spin doctor hired by the U.S. government fakes a war to distract the American public from a White House scandal (in particular, show the scenes where the fabricated war is broadcast on national TV). Follow up the screening by discussing whether the media has the capacity to create images that fool the entire public.

Have students watch TV news segments or read articles from a recent war or conflict. Reassure them that this conflict is real, rather than entirely fabricated as was the war in the film. When they ask the inevitable question “ do we know for sure?,” the conversation may begin to swing toward a philosophical discussion of “how do we know anything for sure..” Rather than taking this route, you can explain that there are some things we can do to verify the media information we get.

Help them brainstorm the ways they could do their own fact-checking and verification. Some examples might include reading more than one newspaper, looking for multiple eyewitness accounts not only from journalists but also from local people who are directly affected by the conflict, and reading or listening to alternative media sources such as community radio stations or the Independent Media Center.

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