Whats copyright and what’s copywrong

As someone who has an online presence where I share others’ media, copyright law is something that matters to me; as a content creator it matters even more.

Far too many people remain in the dark about how copyright law works, and some are somehow surprised that yes, it does apply to things posted online. I don’t pretend to be a copyright law expert, but anyone who interacts with any kind of media in this day and age needs to at least be up to date on the basics. So here they are.

Copyright law exists to protect intellectual property — that is, original ideas and expressions. The best way to make sure you are in compliance with copyright law is to not post material that isn’t yours. Not only does sharing others’ content improperly have the potential to get you in legal trouble, it also hurts content creators and is just generally a lousy thing to do

Now, where copyright law gets murky is when the concept of fair use is introduced. This is the idea that under a few sets of circumstances, using the intellectual property of others is actually okay. For example, using intellectual property for parody is acceptable under fair use laws. (This is the concept under which Dumb Starbucks is allowed to exist.) There are some resources from Columbia University here.

The best idea here is to research the specifics of your situation since fair use and the surrounding, similar copyright law has the potential to be a bit nebulous at times.

And then you have public domain work. This is work for which either the copyright has expired, or the person who created it decided that anyone can use it. There are different kinds of what amount to public domain licenses (like the creative commons or share-alike licenses) with different sets of rules, usually involving crediting the creator of the content.

The bottom line is this: Use original work when you can, always credit content that isn’t yours, and always make sure that content you’re using that doesn’t belong to you is okay to use before you post, share, etc. So long as you treat others (and their content) with respect and don’t post things you don’t have permission to post, you’ll (probably) be fine.



I recently got the opportunity to watch Spotlight (I’m always down for a good journalism film) and, I have to say, I loved it, even if I am a bit late to the party.

For those of you who don’t know, the movie follows the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative journalism team as they investigate sexual abuse in the Catholic church and the resulting cover-ups, winning a Pulitzer prize in the process. It had all the hallmarks of a great journalism film: a crack team wading through a swamp of obstacles because of a higher calling to report truth and help people.

It struck me as interesting that this type of movie is so fascinating to American audiences. Something about the idea of a team of people getting together to try to win a victory for the people over and in spite of the big and the powerful has always been intoxicating to audiences. It’s like its hardwired into our national DNA, part of american culture. We love stories of underdogs taking on the big guy and winning. Maybe it gives us all hope — maybe we can be the underdog that wins. Maybe we love it because it shows that evil in the world can, and does, meet its match. I feel like this idea, uncovering the truth in spite of the obstacles put in place by those more powerful is as attractive today as it has been for years. This drive to uncover corruption is what drove the team at the Boston Globe, and the love of that sort of narrative is what drove the creation of the film.


Post-Election Post Mortem

Now that we have some distance from this past election, it is high time to try and figure out what exactly went so wrong when it comes to the media’s presidential predictions.

Trump’s victory was so shocking to so many because almost no one in media expected Donald Trump to win, because polls significantly favored Hillary, as seen in the New York Times Upshot predictions from midday November 8 and 9:






As seen above, NYT gave Hillary an 85% chance of winning the presidency right before polls closed…






… and, well, we all know how it turned out. This trend was repeated across the board.

So, how did this happen? There are several theories circulating among major media organizations like the Washington Post, NYT, and Politico.

The first has to do with how how pollsters modeled voter turnout, that there may be some unknown flaw in the system that had Trump supporters underrepresented in the polls because more trump supporters voted than expected. This has to do with the way different demographic groups were weighted in polling; this plays into the “silent majority” Trump’s campaign constantly referenced.

The second is that Trump supporters were simply less likely to say they supported Trump, leading to underrepresentation. It makes sense that people wouldn’t openly support someone with Trump’s beliefs, but still vote for him when no one was watching. Emphasis on “Silent,” I guess…

The third is that the polls were simply out of date. Trump led consistently among voters who made up their minds closer to election day; some think this might have affected the accuracy of polling. (Thanks, Russia.)

This all grows even more interesting given the recent news of meddling from Russia and the desire for a recount in three states.

Hopefully we can learn from all this and do a better job next time.


Haunted House Story Segment

The following is from a creative writing project from my Intro to Mass Comm class.

My dear cousin,

I know it has been some time since I last wrote, but given recent circumstances I felt I must write. I’m sure you heard the news of the recent deaths at Greybriar House. In case you haven’t, a man by the name of Bartholomew Downs arrived at a party here, where we were celebrating the success of Greybriar’s shipping company. In brief, this made a drunken spectacle of himself, shouting something about Greybriar killing his brother. He pulled a pistol, and in the fray, Downs and a guard were shot and one of the guests, Amelia Jackson, were killed. Downs ended up hanging himself in his jail cell that night. We’re all rather shaken, but this is not what has compelled me to write you tonight.

You see, at times, often late at night when the wind is cold and the moon is right, I still see glimpses of the two. Sometimes I just feel frozen and I know that if I look out of the corner of my eye, I’d see Amelia. I’ve seen her before. Sometimes I hear Downs yelling behind a door or around a corner and find no one there.

There’s no explanation other than that their spirits never left the house.

Stress in College Students


It comes as little surprise to most that college students experience stress. In recent years, this fact has received quite a bit of attention from psychologists and researchers, as well as attention from major media outlets like the New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, Psychology Today, and others. It’s easy to see why college students experience stress – as research has noted, college students experience many new stressors; it’s a time of incredible change for incoming freshmen, a time of leaving home for most, high pressure to achieve in more difficult academic circumstances, establishing a new social life, and a time of being faced with actually having to enter the job market. College is also more stressful for minorities, according to more research.

But you probably already knew all that.2014-09-pressure-chart1_tcm7-175016

Because of the aforementioned media coverage and research that has been publicized within the last ten years, in addition to personal experiences in college or with college students, most people are aware of the fact that college students are stressed.

What people don’t agree on is how to handle this issue. Fundamentally, there are two schools of thought.

One group is working for more resources to help college students cope with stress and stressful situations. This group, generally speaking, advocates for or provides resources and/or events for college students to decompress or de-stress to better deal with the college experience and the stress that comes with it. They believe that these help students prepare for the workplace by teaching them how to safely cope with acute stress.

The other generally believes that these elevated stress levels are a result of sheltered, coddled students. Their solution is, in essence, to let students figure it out on their own. Generally, this group believes that “resources” brought in to help students cope are doing them a disservice by babying them and failing to adequately prepare them for the post-college world. They contend that since these don’t exist in the work world, they shouldn’t exist in college either, so that students are prepared to handle the stresses of the workplace.

At any rate, it is clear that students do experience stress, which needs to be dealt with.

So, how exactly does one manage stress?

Psychologists break down stress relief strategies into two categories: problem-focused and emotion-focused. Problem-focused strategies are aimed at getting rid of a problem that causes stress; emotion-focused strategies are focused on changing one’s emotions and responses to stressors.

Problem-focused strategies are fairly straightforward, centering around identifying triggers for stress and eliminating them. Roommate problems stressing you out? Talk to your RA about switching rooms. Time management strategies also fit into this category. This is all about getting to the root of the problem and getting rid of it.

Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to just get rid of the stressor. That is where the more nebulous emotion-focused strategies come into play.

The University of Oklahoma recommends a number of practices to combat stress that fit into this category, like relaxing by visualizing yourself in a comforting place or deep breathing for relaxation.

OU also recommends some physical health reminders that can help with stress as well, like sleeping 7-9 hours every night and staying hydrated.

A full list of university-suggested anti-stress tips is available here. Other, similar resources are available from other major universities.

There are times when feeling stressed is more than stress. Sometimes, especially when stress is persistent, when the source of stress can’t be identified, or stress is making it difficult to function, stress is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, or another mental health problem.

Mental illness is a serious problem, and the number of college students affected by it is rising – In 2010, the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors (NSCCD) found that 44 percent of counseling center clients had severe psychological problems, up dramatically from 16 percent in 2000. The most common mental health problems reported were anxiety and depression, both of which can be exacerbated by stress. These illnesses can have a significant impact on the person afflicted, making it difficult to do everyday tasks.

Further compounding the negative impact these disorders can have is the stigma surrounding mental illness. While mental illness is just that – an illness – it can be seen as a personal shortcoming or weakness, particularly in the case of disorders like anxiety and depression. This can prevent those affected from seeking help

However, these disorders are treatable, most commonly through therapy and medication.

When in doubt as to whether you are experiencing something more than normal stress, seek the help of a mental health professional. Here at OU, students can take advantage of counseling services at Goddard Health Center.


Halloween Do’s and Dont’s

It’s the last week in October, meaning it won’t be long until people of all ages will be going to parties and taking to the streets in celebration of Halloween. What’s not to love? Of course, on Halloween there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t do, as always. Below are four simple things to keep in mind and get you started as you celebrate this Halloween.


DO express yourself!

Halloween is an opportunity to get away with wearing something you wouldn’t ordinarily. Take advantage of the opportunity to try something with more visual drama than usual, or radically different than what you do every day. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this opportunity to try new things.


DON’T wear something offensive.

Dressing up as someone else’s culture is a big no-no, as are things like blackface. These are cultures, not costumes, and dressing up as an outdated, racist stereotype is wildly offensive, most of all to the people who have to face the harmful effects of these stereotypes every day. Just don’t do it — there are a hundred alternatives to each of these costumes that aren’t offensive to large swaths of humanity. For more information about this, here’s an article from the New York Times about cultural appropriation as it pertains to Halloween, and here’s a more tongue-in-cheek perspective from artist Dylan Marron.


DO try DIY!

DIY — that is, Do It Yourself costumes — can be a fun way to make a costume cheaply. DIY allows for more creativity and control over what the final product is, not to mention the possibility of last-minute improvisation. For example, this year I’m wearing a bat costume comprised of a black t-shirt, black jeans, a single-piece fabric “wing” I cut out of an old costume cloak I found in the bottom of my closet, and some Wal-Mart cat ears. Attach the wing to the t-shirt with stolen borrowed black bobby pins (or safety pins, if those are on hand) and you have a fun, unique costume that costs next to nothing and can be pulled together in less than an hour. (Not that I ever procrastinate.)


DO have fun!

Cheesy? Absolutely. Important to remember? You bet. At its core, modern Halloween is about having fun. That’s the focus — not having the best/goriest/scariest/most unique costume, getting the most candy, throwing the best party, or whatever might get in the way. It can be easy to get caught up in this, but wouldn’t it be better to have fun at a small get together of good friends with the truly groundbreaking costume of 99-cent vampire teeth than to be miserable at a lavish party in the best costume ever seen? Don’t get so wrapped up in making the other things perfect that you let it get in the way of having fun.








Books that Impacted Me

Now that midterms are behind us, students everywhere are once again finding time to do things that aren’t schoolwork – sleep, for example. One thing I have found I suddenly have time for again is reading books I’m not assigned for class. This got me thinking about the books that I’ve read that shaped my taste in literature and shaped me as a person. Of course, I couldn’t pick just one, so my top four are listed below.

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell


I read Cloud Atlas at what, in hindsight, was a very important time for me in terms of developing my voice and style as a writer. My writer friends raved about it — for good reason. This postmodern masterwork, comprised of six different narratives that “stack” on top of each other, redefined my ideas about how a story can be told. As technically driven as the book is, at its core is the honesty of human connection that drives all great art. Combined, the two create one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

      2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers


Having been truly introduced to postmodern literature with Cloud Atlas, and to Dave Eggers with Zeitoun, I jumped at this book when my high school creative writing teacher dropped it on my desk. It, too, changed the way I saw written storytelling. This book did things I’d only seen before in experimental theatre. It is meta, it is self-aware, it is technically innovative. It is also the first  nonfiction book I’d ever actually read for pleasure and enjoyed.

      3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


While the others listed here are significant to my development as a storyteller, Slaughterhouse-five is more significant to my development as a person. This is one of those books that you walk away from feeling  profoundly changed. It was for me, at least. Not only is it one of the great American anti-war novels, and a great work of modern fiction, it is a book with much to say — if you are willing to listen.

       5. 225 Plays by the New York Neo-Futurists


If Cloud Atlas redefined how I saw literature, 225 Plays redefined how I see theatrical storytelling. These plays are all part of an aesthetic called Neo-Futurism, which is a form of experimental theatre defined by total authenticity, living in the moment, and real conflict. These plays took everything I thought I knew about theatre and turned it on its ear. In the process, I was opened up to a plethora of new ideas of what theatre could be, and the type of art I am free to create.