Digital Video Delivery in the Classroom


Digital Video Delivery In Schools

Audio-visual education is such a fundamental teaching tool in schools today that it seems difficult to recall a time when this was not the case. Educators and students have benefited from many curriculum-rich video programs produced specifically for the classroom. With over 90% of the nation's classrooms outfitted with VHS VCRs, the average number of VHS cassettes in school libraries has grown to over 500 videos. Clearly, the VHS cassette has become a staple in school libraries and will continue to be an essential educational tool long after consumers have completely moved to DVD. And now, a number of school districts throughout the country are embarking on a variety of new methods to deliver digital video to the classroom.

These new digital delivery or video-on-demand systems offer several advantages over conventional packaged media, including access to more programs than are typically housed on site in the school library and the potential for quicker access to a centralized districts' holdings. However, there are also many obstacles which must be overcome and questions which must be answered in order to understand precisely how these new systems will actually function in the classroom.

Digital delivery systems can be built to service a single school, a school district, or a group of school districts (Regional Media Center). However, the number of simultaneous users on a system affects how powerful a system has to be, and can be limited by many technical factors - with bandwidth being one of the greatest limitations.

When the server is contained within a single building, a local area network (LAN) will in most cases have sufficient bandwidth. However, when the server is hosted at the district level and a private wide area network (WAN) is used to deliver the digital content to each school, each building may have limited bandwidth to the network, such as with a T1 line. And if the Internet is used, limited bandwidth to the Internet may be compounded by congestion on the public network itself.

There are three basics methods of delivering digital video over various networks. Some systems combine more than one of these methods to better service their users.

Closed-Circuit Cable Systems

For many years schools have successfully used cable systems to deliver video to the classroom, using a bank of VCRs that had to be loaded daily with the appropriate content. One method of using digital video to better serve the classroom is to exchange the bank of VCRs in these systems with a server full of digital content. When a program is requested, the digital video is converted back to analog and delivered over the closed-circuit cable system. This has the advantage of using an existing network (the cable system) that is already plugged right into a TV but it also has the disadvantage of being limited by the cable systems capacity in channels, which may be very small.

Store-and-Forward

Another way is to download the whole digital video file to the requesting user. This method, often called store-and-forward, has the advantages of not being directly limited by bandwidth and allowing for easy reuse of the video once it is stored locally. The downside is that it is not truly an on-demand system, and in some cases, due to limited bandwidth, it may take much longer to download the video than it actually will to play it. In addition, this creates numerous copies of the content that have to be managed, either by users or by the system itself.

Streaming

The final and most prevalent way is streaming. Streaming involves playing the video directly from a server as it is received, and it is not stored on a classroom computer at all. This clearly has the advantages of being real-time, as well not requiring management of copies of the content. The only downside is that there must be enough dedicated bandwidth between the classroom computer and the server to play the video (the amount needed varies by the video's format and quality). This often makes bandwidth the most limiting factor in streaming-based systems, and in systems that are using a WAN or the Internet, bandwidth can prove too limiting to support a reasonable number of simultaneous users. For example, when video is streamed at 300 Kilobits per second (Kbps) over a T1 line, the line's seemingly large bandwidth (1500 Kbps) cannot support more than two or three simultaneous streams along with the network traffic it already handles, such as browsing the web or email.

Copyright

Regardless of which digital delivery system is being used, it is essential that you consider whether permission to deliver the video by means of such a system is required under copyright laws. In most cases, permission from the copyright owner is required to deliver content by means of a digital delivery system. In addition, any system that involves encoding or converting an audiovisual program from analog (VHS)to digital format (or vice versa) creates a copy of the program and may violate the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. Moreover, under current copyright law, permission from the copyright owner is generally required for transmissions and public performances of motion pictures, videos, DVDs and other audiovisual works by means of a digital delivery system.

Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act of 1976, which is also known as the "classroom exemption," has been widely interpreted to exclude broadcasting and other transmissions from an outside location into classrooms. Although the classroom exemption may, therefore, apply to some digital delivery systems (for example, where such system is contained within a single building, the system does not create a copy of the copyrighted work by means of downloading or format conversion and only members of the class have access to view the audiovisual transmission), under current copyright law, transmissions for instructional purposes by means of a digital delivery system that reaches beyond a single building are governed by Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act, which until recently did not permit the use of any audiovisual works with such systems without permission from the copyright owner.

TEACH Act

Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act was recently amended by the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2001, known as the TEACH Act, which broadens the classroom exemption to accommodate the use of copyrighted works, including audiovisual works, in connection with certain distance education technologies, such as digital delivery systems, subject to numerous technical and administrative requirements. The TEACH Act permits the use of closed-circuit, downloading and streaming technologies to digitally deliver limited portions of an audiovisual work (whether in a classroom or a non-classroom setting), as long as the transmission is directed by the instructor, the performance is directly related to the teaching content, and the transmission is limited, to the extent technologically feasible, to the students officially enrolled in the class, among many other requirements. Limited portions of analog versions of audiovisual works may be converted to a digital format if all requirements of the Act are met, but only if no digital versions of such works are available from the copyright owner. For example, Schlessinger Media programs are all available in digital format and, therefore, the analog versions of the programs may not be converted to digital format without Schlessinger Media's written permission. Furthermore, copyrighted works that are produced or marketed primarily for mediated instructional activities for transmission via digital networks (such as the digital versions of Schlessinger Media programs) are completely excluded from the TEACH Act exemption. The use of such works with digital delivery systems without the copyright owner's permission may subject the user to liability for copyright infringement. A future article will feature a detailed discussion about the TEACH Act.

Purchasing Digital Delivery Rights

Many of your videos that have been purchased for your classrooms or libraries may have been sold by your supplier with certain rights. For example, many suppliers sell their videos with a grant of public performance rights or with duplication rights. These types of grants should be carefully reviewed by your legal advisor to determine if they allow both the right to make digital copies and the right to show the video in school by means of the specific type of delivery system used by your network. These grants may not be broad enough in scope to allow a video to be delivered by means of your delivery system, and, therefore, permission must be obtained from the copyright owner of the video.

If you are fortunate enough to have or to be building a digital video delivery system in your school district, you have a lot to consider in managing your video collection. Most videos that have been produced or released by major studios do not come with digital delivery rights, but many producers in the educational market sell these rights today in a variety of formats and bitrates.

For more information about obtaining digital rights for any Schlessinger Media program, click here or please contact digital@libraryvideo.com.