Teaching (and Reforming) the Next Generation of Pirates and Copyright Violators

This is the first in our current series of short essays by participants in the Spring 2024 Open Knowledge Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences teaching undergraduate courses at CUNY.

Sandy Jimenez is an American comic book artist, writer and editor of Dominican descent from the South Bronx. Sandy’s ongoing comic book series began publication in World War 3 Illustrated magazine in 1991, making him the first Dominican-American comic book artist to write and illustrate his own brand of stories. He lives in Manhattan not far from Word Up Books, the community bookshop he helped founder Veronica Santiago Liu start in 2011.

Teaching (and Reforming) the Next Generation of Pirates and Copyright Violators by Sandy Jimenez

As a student who grew up in the poorest Congressional District in the United States in the 1970s, the cost of textbooks and learning materials is a concern and challenge I am personally familiar with. My high school years and college years were punctuated by semesters in which book costs were significant, if not worrying expenditures every September. These personal experiences made the Open Knowledge Fellowship a very intriguing course of training for me as an adult educator teaching in the CUNY system, in which many students are from working class families like mine and are impacted greatly by course material costs.

         Teaching and making visual art is fraught with specific challenges addressed by Open Educational Resources. The presumed “openness” of the Internet by most of society is an issue of great importance, anxiety and concern for me both as an educator and as a practicing artist: While artists, designers and creatives are often the biggest victims of piracy and copyright violation online, visual artists are some of the web’s worst perpetrators of those same violations. I have long wondered how do we address this problem, a problem as old as the early ‘90s, when it is today so second-nature and habitual to the public and succeeding generations of users and students.

”’Design for a Flying Machine”’ (c. 1488) is a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Design_for_a_Flying_Machine.jpg

As an educator teaching in visual arts for Spring 2024, I saw specific challenges faced by students regarding accessing learning materials and for myself in building their syllabus: While there is no shortage of images and reference material for students to grab from the Internet, Art books are often prestige format publications that are massive in size, and prohibitively expensive. The material students often assume is “free” on the Internet, because it is not guarded by a paywall or subscription, presented complications, as it is difficult to explain to a generation of digital natives that the ability to screengrab an image or select and copy a page of text from a website does not in any way indicate the “right” to do so.

         While the stated chief aim of the Fellowship was the creation of a syllabus with no-cost sources, for the first time, I saw an opportunity to show students a way to retrieve and utilize material online without their resorting to piracy—IP and copyright being one of their (my students) only lines of defense of their own creative work and artistic labor in their future careers – but also with the hope that I might be able to train the kind of professionals I would one day hire. Over the years, I have witnessed many instances where junior professionals, new to the corporate work-place and its public-sphere marketplace standards and responsibilities, have used trademarked or copyright-protected images or text in presentations. Had these presentations been distributed outside of the offices of the parent company, it would have resulted in great embarrassment for the department and its parent division or worse could have triggered a lawsuit. Understanding how to explain these issues covered in the Open Knowledge Fellowship were as important to me as learning them in the service of creating an OER syllabus. 

While I did not find any of the specific titles in my initial wish-list of reference books as open resources under Creative Commons licenses, the search tools and databases found free texts that were in some cases more expansive and richer than what I had originally targeted.

I can now pass on what I have learned in the identification and proper use of OER to my students. Fundamental things that the Open Knowledge  Fellowship’s instructors, presenters and librarians explained regarding the questioning, examining and identification of a given resource’s state of copyright can now be passed on by me to students in a straightforward fashion. In passing along what I learned in the Open Knowledge Fellowship to my art students, they will in turn not immediately resort to violating copyright. Instead, my students will be newly prepared with a set of methods and alternative practices for accessing, using and citing media and texts in their own work, or possibly in their own career as educators someday.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.