I had a big surprise today during our Celebrate Oklahoma Voices “partner’s workshop.” For fun and to make some serious points, to kick off our discussion of copyright and intellectual property issues as they relate to digital storytelling I started to show a YouTube version of the 1992 video “Don’t Copy That Floppy.” This was supposed to be just a fun, short introduction to copyright and a juxtaposition of a 16 year old video on copyright issues with the more current Creative Commons video “Get Creative.” It turned out to be more of a “teachable moment” than I’d anticipated.

At minute mark 1:15 of this 9:42 video, video annotation text started to appear on the full-screen video I was playing on a Smartboard, which included some words and phrases I certainly didn’t expect to show our audience of teachers and administrators.

Video Annotations on YouTube - Don't Copy That Floppy (HIGH QUALITY version!)

According to the YouTube website:

Video Annotations are a new way for you to add interactive commentary to your videos! Use them to:

  • Add background information about the video
  • Create stories with multiple possibilities (viewers click to choose the next scene)
  • Link to related YouTube videos, channels, or search results from within a video

Video annotations certainly can be a great way to have conversations in and around videos, but they also can (as this example demonstrates) be used disruptively and inappropriately. Perhaps the Google-employed authors of this YouTube “help page” could also add the following uses of video annotations to their posted list:

  • Surprise and embarrass teachers who may be showing a YouTube video to students and others in schools.
  • Further guarantee that school officials won’t let the YouTube website be unblocked for student use (and in many schools, for teacher use either) since the appearance of such video annotations is wholly unpredictable and likely disruptive for the educative potential of the video being shown.

My advice to educators when it comes to sharing YouTube videos with either students or peers (which I will certainly follow myself in the future) is the following:

  • When possible, use one of multiple available methods to download the video “offline” to your hard drive or a flash drive, so you can play it reliably and WITHOUT video annotations.
  • If time or other factors prevent you from being able to download the video offline, be sure to follow the YouTube tutorial instructions and turn off video annotations for the SPECIFIC video you are showing, BEFORE you play it for an audience.

According to the YouTube “about” page for video annotations:

Video annotations, once published, are shown by default. You can turn them off while watching a video through the “Menu” button on the bottom right of the video player.

Turn off video text annotations on a YouTube video by clicking here...

Unfortunately it appears video annotations cannot be turned off globally for all YouTube videos you watch when you are logged in with a YouTube account. According to some users posting in the YouTube support forum, turning off annotations is even temporary for the video you’ve selected and for which you’ve turned off annotations. This IS irritating, problematic, and unnecessary.

My suggestion to the YouTube development team at Google (if you’re listening / reading) is to PLEASE provide an option (preferably as an account setting) to permanently turn off video annotations for ALL videos. I know surprises like the one I had today are an inherent part of accessing and using user-created content. Still, I think it would be sensible as well as beneficial (especially for educators striving to convince others of the potential value of video sharing sites like YouTube for students in schools) to provide a video annotation opt-out option.

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12 Responses to Beware: YouTube video annotations may be inappropriately disruptive

  1. Bronwen Eady says:

    Thanks for letting us know about this – it is certainly something I would not have considered a risk. As I teach in a NSW govt school I am unable to access You Tube at work even as a staff member, so I have no choice but to download them, but if it is something i “know” i admit i do not always preview the entire clip before taking it to school. I will now!
    I agree that this is yet another arrow in the side of the educational use of youtube – it is becoming an insurmountable battle. Adding to the problem are the ads that are now playing over the videos on teacher tube. It certainly is a shame.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I know that you learned the hard way, but we will all benefit from the lesson you learned. I use YouTube videos occasionally to introduce a topic or as a visual supplement to a discussion. Do you know if anyone can leave an annotation on a video, or if it can only be done by the originator?

  3. Leif Harboe says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I haven’t heard about before you told me!

  4. Lori A says:

    Since YouTube is blocked at my district, I download videos and preview them before showing. I have never seen these annotations before, thanks for pointing it out. I do remember the “Don’t copy that floppy” video. I showed it when I was the computer teacher at a middle school back in the 1990’s.

  5. Cathy Nelson says:

    Isn’t downloading YT videos against their terms of use? Of course they are not a stellar or fine example of copyright anyway…Tsk, tsk, just when my district was relaxing a bit in regards to YouTube. (Teachers had access while student logins did not.)

  6. Wesley Fryer says:

    Cathy: According to the YouTube Terms of use document:

    Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use only and may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, distributed, transmitted, broadcast, displayed, sold, licensed, or otherwise exploited for any other purposes whatsoever without the prior written consent of the respective owners.

    Based on these terms, is showing a YouTube video to a class at school or a group at an educational conference a violation of this contract? The terms go on to prohibit downloading and copying for commercial purposes:

    You agree to not engage in the use, copying, or distribution of any of the Content other than expressly permitted herein, including any use, copying, or distribution of User Submissions of third parties obtained through the Website for any commercial purposes.

    The terms do not address noncommercial, educational uses from what I can tell.

    I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of law suggests that contractual law (which is invoked by a terms of use agreement like this) is different than copyright law provisions and fair use. My layman’s interpretation is that it would be helpful if YouTube’s Terms of Use specifically permitted the noncommercial, educational sharing of videos. Technically speaking, these terms appear to require anyone who wants to share a video with a group (something beyond “personal use”) to obtain the permission of the owner/publisher. It is easy to send a message via YouTube to video publishers, but this certainly would be a potentially cumbersome and burdensome task.

    I’ll forward this on to Dr. Scott McLeod and others at the EdJurist blog to get their views on this. Good question.

  7. Cathy Nelson says:

    Wow–thanks. What about specifically downloading YouTube video? Since the site itself does not seem to offer a way to download, one must use outside sites to actually do this (I personally have used ZamZar to download stuff for presentations–relying on an Internet connection for a pres is risky business in my experience.) Perhaps Doc Mcleod can answer that to. I did think wow this would be good food for thought to mash around with Scott.

  8. […] Beware: YouTube video annotations may be inappropriately disruptive » Moving at the Speed of Creati… (tags: web2.0 youtube) […]

  9. Wesley Fryer says:

    Cathy: I emailed this link to Scott yesterday and asked for his input and the EdJurist crew… we’ll see what they say!

  10. Scott McLeod says:

    I know just enough about copyright to be dangerous to myself and others. I’d say download it, use it, and wait for the ‘cease and desist’ letter. Otherwise, don’t worry about it [note: this does NOT constitute legal advice!].

    Can you tell I’m a little more cavalier about this than maybe I should be? I just think you have more important issues to worry about than whether someone’s going to go after you for this…

  11. Cathy Nelson says:

    LOL Scott! You sound more and more like Doug Johnson EVERYDAY!!November 11 promises to give us an update on Copyright. Looking forward to the date. But like Doug, I have relaxed my stance some on copyright, and assume permission first (for most online things.)

  12. diddy47 says:

    heya…i agree these annotations are an annoyance instead of being helpful

    here is how u get rid of them

    first you need to be browsing using firefox with the adblck plus extension installed

    open youtube and visit any video page that you know has annotations

    right click the adblock plus icon

    click ‘open blockable items’ under the adblock plus icon in the browser

    type in ‘module’ and press enter

    right click the result that comes up and select ‘block this items’

    close the ‘open blockable item window’ and reload page

    no more annotations …

    from now on all youtube videos in your browser have no annotations

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