Back to the… Wait, What?

Well, while Typhoon Bolaven does its worst out there–and it doesn’t have me particularly alarmed at the moment, though I’m not venturing outside or anything… our neighborhood is in a panic, though, and the local mini-marts were cleaned out as you can see in the featured image for this post–I’m thinking about what the hell to do with the course I foolishly agreed to teach this semester.

That course is a Foundations in Greco-Roman Mythology and Biblical Narrative course. You know, the kind of thing you spend a summer preparing a course outline and readings package for? As with most things I’m asked to do or invited to, in Korea, the news came at the very absolutely last possible minute–in this case, a day or two before I left on a two-and-a-half week trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Singapore.

(Great trip, thanks for asking. I’ll sum up the highlights soon.)

But at the moment, I’m trying to figure out how in the hell I’ll be teaching this course. For one thing, I got news from up on the hill1 that we can no longer distribute any photocopies of anything we haven’t written ourselves to our students. I don’t have the exact words the admin used; the secretary, instead of giving me the documents, gave me a summary, which claimed that the new policy was launched on the basis of several universities being sued for copyright violation.

Which, in one sense, well, it’s about time. Korean society in general is extremely behind when it comes to institutional recognition of intellectual property rights: not only are Korean universities collectively failing to educate their students about plagiarism to even a reasonable degree (like, knowing that it’s unacceptable, or understanding it’s fail-worthy) but also in other ways.

I don’t know what it’s like in physics and math and economics departments, but I do know that in liberal arts courses like required English conversation, or in literature classes, students have often presented me with the attitude that they ought to be allowed to bring photocopied textbooks and workbooks to class, as well as their collective moan when asked to purchase a textbook, let alone two or three, for a course; foreign profs I’ve known have gone so far as to insist that students must bring the book being discussed to class, and that those bringing photocopied texts will be kicked out of class and counted as absent for that day, because book-copying was so rampant.

But to be told I cannot hand out anything in photocopied form to which I myself do not hold copyright, is a bit mind-blowing… and it signals a change that will need to happen, I suppose.

English Lit students are fully accustomed to buying the Norton Anthology of English Literature, for example… at least, when an older Korean prof requires them to buy it. (Do they also hear the whining and griping and groaning?) Which may suit some of their professors fine, but what if one wishes to cover something not in the book? Or, what if one wishes to cover a collection of texts that simply don’t all exist in one single text?

Personally, I have no idea whether there is an adequate readings text for the subject: it’s not my field of expertise, not that such a consideration has ever caused anyone to question giving me a course. I mean, they had me teach “Business Across Cultures” once! I am guessing perhaps I should go with Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and do what I can with that. I have until tomorrow to decide, so I’d better get it sorted out in my mind nice and quick.

I suppose I can always give a trusted student a copy of my Ovid, of my translation of The Iliad, with instructions on what to copy for her classmates, and instruct the class to pay her up front for the copies. But it’s kind of a pain in the ass when what we’re doing would be legal in a society that, while finally protecting the rights of publishers, spent a little time and energy protecting the rights of consumers and educators as well.

I was about to launch into a big research project to find out whether Fair Use actually exists in Korean copyright law the way it does in Canadian law (in the form it did when I was a student, at least) but then I realized: regardless of what the law says, nobody on faculty is going to fight this policy, so we’re going to have to live with it. That takes the wind out of the sails as far as research: why bother to find out what the facts are when they won’t matter a whit to the discussion of policy?

I guess I’ll have to get a special order going with the library, though: we’re going to need some books for students to be able to copy their readings from, because, yeah, the policy said “it’s okay if students do the copying themselves” and we all know the print shops just outside of campus aren’t going to shut down their mass copyright violations anytime soon.2

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that, though if anyone has a good reader of Greek Classical Mythology to recommend, fire away. I have other things to write about here on the blog, including:

  • my latest Pound-Cantos post, which is almost done, but not quite
  • a summary of my and Miss Jiwaku’s trip through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Singapore
  • a discussion of the beer scene in those places, especially Singapore
But for now, I’m going to go do some other stuff that needs doing. (Yes, it’s late, but I slept a lot of the afternoon and evening away. I’m still recovering from that overnight flight, and the cold I caught toward the end of the trip.)

1. For some reason most Korean universities I’ve worked at have been constructed on a hill or on the foot of a mountain, following a spatial hierarchy. The teaching gets done on the lower levels, which is also where students eat and socialize. Further up the hill, one finds the professors’ offices, and the professors’ cafeteria; then, at the top of the hill, one finds the library and administration buildings. I understand the placement of the library, given the flooding one sometimes sees around here, but the fact that administration is always up the hill seems an all-too-explicit reminder of the status of administration in relation to everyone else. Hence, the expression that every expat I’ve worked with in Korea has used, “Up on the hill,” to mean something dictated down to us from administration.

2. For which, I must admit, I have at times been thankful. When a book is out of print and you want a copy, the thing to do is take it to a print shop and get it copied from cover to cover. I know campus print shops would refuse to do that when I was a student, even for out-of-print books if they were not in the public domain, but it’s handy, practical, and hurts nobody since neither the publisher nor the author would get paid anything for a book one cannot buy because it is out of print, and no used copies are available for less than the cost of shipping them to Korea. So this has been handy in the past, even if the shop owners tend to get pissy when one wants just one copy. (Some shops refuse unless you make at least three copies of something.) But it’s a bit funny when universities are freaking out about IP law, and just outside their gates, mom’n’pop copy shops are continuing as nothing happens.

3 thoughts on “Back to the… Wait, What?

  1. I know very little about copyright law, especially as it applies to texts used for educational purposes, but when I was an undergrad in an Australian university, we were frequently given photocopied excerpts from textbooks, and in some cases asked to pay for ‘readings’ which were basically just bound files of assorted, photocopied textbook chapters. There may well have been a system in place whereby the authors were sufficiently reimbursed, but personally, I think universities (and any other educational institution) should have free reign to copy any text they like, as long as they credit the original source and it is used strictly as course materials. I agree that plagiarism and other intellectual property crimes are treated far too lightly in Korea (as well as many other countries) but I don’t think that photocopying texts for the purposes of education should constitute an intellectual property crime.

  2. I was attending university when publishers won a big court case with Kinkos and other copying companies, forcing them to pay royalties on bulk packs used for university courses. It was a sad time, as prices tripled (at least) between semesters. But it was the right thing to do.

    As for your mythology course… at least there are plenty of materials out there free from copyrights. Korea’s copyright cutoff is 50 years from death of author (30 years before 1957). Pretty much anything at Project Gutenberg should be perfect for your needs.

    1. Baekgom,

      Yeah, when I was student there were course packs. We had to pay them at the higher rate that Noah Body discusses in his comment above, but profs were allowed to organize course packs for us nonetheless. I’m pretty sure it was expedited through the copy shops, who simply collected royalty fees to forward to the publisher, but anyway, that was fine. What troubles me is the “no more course packs” thing.

      The secretary’s response to my inquiries about Fair Use basically suggested that the admin in charge refused to answer directly; probably like the guy who handled my contract last time around (and told me it would be no visa problem if I worked illegally for a few weeks while they organized a contract for me, and only smartened up when I told him he’d be paying for my f*cking visa run to Japan in that case), I’m guessing she simply doesn’t know/understand the law and prefers to be vague in order to cover her own ass.

      That said, I think copying of whole books is wrong unless the book is out of print. (And unless the book is amazing — and a few really truly are — one can usually find a substitute.) I don’t think schools should have free rein with copying textbooks because then nobody would be writing new, quality textbooks anymore. I have problems with the textbook industry in other ways, but I think we shouldn’t be tanking it altogether.


      Yeah, I think the readings packages were always at that higher price since I started school. It never seemed much to me, and I always appreciated the packs because it meant we could have a variety of good source materials without having to buy 20 books at $25 a pop (or more). I agree it was the right thing to do, though I can relate to how much it sucked. Of course, my students are so used to paying nothing, or a mere pittance, for their materials. Perhaps, though, that is why they don’t usually read them? When I was paying $50 for a used Riverside Chaucer, I felt like I should read the whole damned thing to get my money’s worth. (I still haven’t gotten all the way through, but I did read a lot of it.)

      As for the mythology course: I was thinking about Project Gutenberg too. But I am also rethinking things a bit. I feel like it’s maybe a waste of their time to force them to read The Odyssey in English translation: I’d rather they read it in Korean translation, as background to looking at other, more contemporary reinterpretations in English. Which is the problem with the Project Gutenberg idea: I planned the course out focusing on modern reinterpretations. (“Modern” being a loose term, mind: there’s some Arthur Machen and even some Lovecraft (as anti-Greek Mythology/Biblical narrative) in there, but also some much more recent, not-in-public-domain stuff too.)

      Now I’m seriously reconsidering, as maybe it’d be better if we just read some Homer and some anthology of Greek Mythic narratives or something, adding the more recent stuff toward the end of semester and in smaller doses. I think I’ll talk with the class next time — ie. next Monday morning.

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