This year, I had the immense privilege and pleasure of teaching an undergraduate course at the University of Southern California called PWNED: Everyone on Campus is a Copyright Criminal. The class was open to anyone on or off campus, and we podcasted the lectures. The students edited a class blog and were expected to improve Wikipedia posts relevant to the class. For the end of semester, each student turned in a final project that related the course material to their lives and major areas of study.
From the class discussions and one-on-ones, I knew I had a really amazing bunch on my hands, but I was absolutely gobsmacked by the incredible quality of the final projects. From founding a record label to conducting public polls to writing guidelines for journalists to interviews and classroom materials, my students did me better than proud.
I encouraged my students to do work that would be of use to the world at large. I hate the idea of the usual college final paper, which the student doesn't want to write, the prof doesn't want to read and no one else wants to ever see. Instead, I challenged them to produce useful work that the world could benefit from, and they met and exceeded the challenge.
I've invited those students who want to share their work to post about it on the class blog. Click through below for a guide to the projects.
- USC's film school and copyright: Cameron Parkins — co-founder of USC's FreeCulture chapter — wrote a sterling white-paper on the USC film school's notorious copyright policy (Cameron is a film student). USC film students are required to assign copyright to their student films to the university, and are forbidden from putting them online. USC film students are understandably nonplussed by this. Cameron's work argues a lucid and comprehensive case for changing the policy.
- The accused, the isoHunter and the journalist: Allen Injijian's interviews. Allen conducted interviews with Gary Fung – Creator and Owner of isoHunt.com, Ernesto of TorrentFreak.com, a site that covers download scene, and Landi Guidetti, a USC student who was sued by the RIAA for downloading music.
- DJ Drama and the mixtape industry: Tom Burke is fascinated with mix-tapes, compilation mixes produced by prominent DJs to promote hip-hop acts. This year a number of mixtape DJs were arrested in heavy busts by the same record companies that paid them to put exclusive songs out to promote their artists. Tom produced an enhanced podcast that tells the story and analyses the copyright picture.
- Teaching copyright: Richard Esguerra registered the domain TeachingCopyright.org as a site for collecting curriculum materials for K-12 teachers who are being asked to explain copyright to their kids. Today, teachers are overwhelmed by slick, self-interested "curriculum" generated by the MPAA and their ilk, which presents a one-sided, inaccurate view of copyright. Richard produced some curriculum himself, and another student, Julianne Gale, supplemented his work with a brilliant lesson plan for kids in grades 6-8.
- Vosotros:a copy-friendly record label. John Gillilan, a musician who recently interned for Universal Music, created an entire record label for his final project. Vosotros put out Creative Commons-licensed CDs and podcasts to promote a series of live events that supported and publicized local indie artists. Be sure to listen to the final class podcast to catch John's presentation, which was jaw-droppingly cool.
- Blogger-friendly baseball: Crystal Larsen wants to manage sporting venues when she graduates, and her work placement this year was with Major League Baseball. For my class, she produced a pitch to MLB for bringing bloggers into the games as credentialled press and encouraging them to disseminate accounts of the games — something that MLB currently treats as a threat to be prevented.
- Google's Open Source guy: Pierson Clair interviewed Chris DiBona, Google's Open Source Projects Manager. DiBona talked about free software and freedom as embodied in software, covering a really wide range of topics. Pierson produced a two-part enhanced podcast full of visuals, with bookmarks to individual topics(Part 1, Part 2
- Understanding the Blu-Ray crack: Kyle Logue, a hacker, was fascinated by the story of how Blu-Ray was cracked by someone who'd never even seen a Blu-Ray player. He produced a great, accessible Flash movie to help explain to non-geeks how this worked and why it means that "copy-protection" is a lost cause.
- Architectures of control: Scott Nusinow's an architecture student. As part of his architecture final, he had to produce a plan for a mixed-use library. For my class, he examined his work in light of the systems of control embodied in physical architecture, explaining how designers of the physical world try to corral the humans who inhabit it. He called it ArchiPWNED.
- Covering RIAA lawsuits on campus: Jessica Janner, a journalism major, wrote a tremendous guide for student journalists who want to cover RIAA lawsuits on their own campuses. With more than 700 Americans being sued by the RIAA every month — and with campuses coming in for special scrutiny — it's important to give student journalists the ability to frame these issues for their peers.
- Survey of P2P downloading and campuses: Jaime Gardner surveyed 224 USC students about their downloading habits in light of RIAA lawsuits. The RIAA claims that lawsuits have reduced the use of P2P, while pro-P2P sites have concluded the opposite based on surveys of their own (self-selected) users. Jaime's work gives a better picture of the effect of P2P suits on campus downloaders, polling the people whom the RIAA hopes most to intimidate. It would be amazing to repeat this survey at other campuses in different parts of the country and compare results nationwide.