Marlboro College

NewsLeBlanc Testifies Before U.S. Senate Committee on Distance Learningand Copyright Laws

WASHINGTON, DC – At the invitation of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Marlboro College President Paul LeBlanc testified on March 13 before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on distance learning and copyright laws.

Chaired by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) with Leahy as the ranking member, the committee has introduced the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization, or TEACH, Act, which would make minor revisions to the nation's copyright laws to allow the use of common classroom techniques in distance education. According to Leahy, "This legislation would help clarify the law and allow educators to use the same rich material in distance learning over the Internet that they are able to use in face-to-face classroom instruction."

LeBlanc's remarks were made in support of the TEACH Act. "Schools are increasingly wired," said LeBlanc, "but access to online content is prohibiting the growth of innovative uses of those networks."

Teachers from K-12 to the graduate level routinely show movies, play music and share books with students in the classroom. The use of such copyrighted material in face-to-face classroom instruction is exempt from the exclusive rights of a copyright owner. Copyrighted works may also be transmitted to remote classrooms when circumstances such as disabilities prevent classroom attendance. This exemption, part of legislation more than 20 years old, did not anticipate the virtual classroom and digital transmissions that require reproduction to move data from computer to computer. As the U.S. Copyright Office noted in its 1999 report, students taking distance education courses are expected to represent 15 percent of all higher education students in 2002.

According to LeBlanc, founder of the nation's first e-commerce master's degree program, the Persons School of Marlboro College encounters the problems of current copyright law in two ways. Since it is a graduate school for working professionals, with classes meeting every other week and supplemented by distance learning, students and teachers must limit their use of materials that would be taken for granted in the traditional classroom. "The inclusion of just eight seconds from the licensed popular song 'Everybody Dance Now' in a marketing student's campaign proved to involve too much expense and red tape," said LeBlanc.

Graduates of the college's Teaching with Internet Technologies program are hindered even more dramatically when they teach at the K-12 level. For a teacher who was interested in using a segment of the popular "Magic School Bus" science series, "The process and expense of obtaining a license were both prohibitive and prevented the delivery of timely instruction in an innovative delivery system," said LeBlanc.

Leahy and Hatch both come from rural states where "distance learning is a critical component of any quality educational and economic development system," said Leahy. The TEACH Act would make small but substantial changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, when the complexity of the subject was revealed. The key recommendations of the TEACH Act include eliminating the requirement of physical classroom for remote site students, adding new safeguards to counteract new risks for copyright owners, and expanding the categories of works covered beyond the current nondramatic literary and musical works to limited portions of films.

LeBlanc has been president of Marlboro College, a small, private liberal arts college in southern Vermont, since 1996. In 1998, he founded The Persons School of Marlboro College, and in 2000 he oversaw the establishment of the Marlboro College Technology Center, which taps the synergy of Internet education and growing technology businesses, with the goal of regional economic development. Both the Persons School and Technology Center are located in nearby Brattleboro, Vermont.

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