GEZ, GEMA and the art of freelance training

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Good news for freelancers: We don’t have to pay extra GEZ for our office computer. Since computers are multimedia devices, GEZ originally wanted to charge the fee levied for the use of radios and TVs on computers. The decision passed down two days ago has stopped that. But wait…

Bad news for freelance English teachers: You do know, don’t you, that you still have to pay GEZ on that little audio player you take to class. Yes, even if it’s just an mp3 player and you downloaded your files from the BBC rather than ZDF or ARD. Or if all your player contains are files transferred from a CD that you paid for yourself. You’re paying for what your device can potentially do. I know, it pisses me off, too. The good news: If you are already paying GEZ for another device you use privately, like your TV or radio, you don’t have to pay extra for your media player.

But there’s a catch: You’re not allowed to earn money with any media you have downloaded for free. So no podcasts in your company English course. Yep, it’s a real Catch 22: You’re not allowed to play broadcasts to teach, but you have to pay the broadcasting fee. Oh and then of course there’s GEMA, if you’re playing anything to a paying student. Schools handle that collectively, but we freelance language trainers are on our own. We’re teachers, but we’re also business people. We train for profit. Now, how bizarre is that?

And we haven’t even started talking about what you do with the content you have on your media player – how you and your students play with it and learn by manipulating it. Students are allowed do anything they wish with it as long as they don’t make money from it. But what about the teacher?

Should we be worried? Well… no, I don’t think so. But we should promote the right to use the media creatively in our classroom. These are petty offenses, and the cultural and educational rewards of remixing are so great. And things are changing. Watch lawyer Larry Lessig of Creative Commons talk about how the law is strangling creativity and how the Internet is reviving participatory culture, something we lost in the 20th century. He pleads for new legal concepts so that we don’t lose our respect for the law.

In my lifetime, please. And let’s extend the discussion to include the providers of life-long learning. But in the meantime: How many laws have you broken today?


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