Sharing is the essence of digital creativity, but its enemies want to brainwash grade-schoolers with their commercial interests
In kindergarten, we teach children to share. By second grade – if people who bring you songs and pixie dust have their way – we'll amend that in a major way.
Hollywood and the recording industry (aka the Copyright Cartel) are leading the charge to create grade school lessons that – at least, in their draft form, as published by Wired – have a no-compromise message: if someone else created it, you need permission to use it.
Sounds wonderful, until you think about how creativity actually works. And never mind that the law, already tipped in favor of copyright holders, doesn't hold such an absolutist position.
It's no surprise to learn that America's biggest internet service providers – let's call them the Telecom Cartel, since that's what they've become – are part of this propaganda scheme. It's sad to learn, however, that the California School Library Association has climbed aboard; the organization helped produce the lessons that, thankfully, are still only in draft form. But they are likely to reach California classrooms later this school year and, presumably, other parts of the nation later on.
Wired obtained some of the draft lesson plans. They're amazing (and not in a complimentary way). The lesson aimed at second graders (pdf), for example, winds up this way:
We are all creators at some level. We hope others will respect our work and follow what we decide to allow with our photos, art, movies, etc. And we 'play fair' with their work too. We are careful to acknowledge the work of authors and creators and respect their ownership. We recognize that it's hard work to produce something, and we want to get paid for our work.
We're definitely all becoming creators, and we do want others to respect our work. But in the real world, and under the law, we can't make all the decisions about what uses we allow of that work. There's a concept called "fair use" – deliberately ignored in the lesson, on the absurd basis that kids can't understand it – that explicitly allows others to make use of our work in ways we don't like, or anticipate. Without fair use, creative works would be next to impossible, because we all build on the work of those who came before us.
Needless to say, this lesson and others made public – including grades one (pdf), five (pdf), and six (pdf) – have sparked a bit of an uproar outside the cartel's orbit. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mitch Stoltz told Wired:
[The material] suggests, falsely, that ideas are property and that building on others' ideas always requires permission. The overriding message of this curriculum is that students' time should be consumed not in creating but in worrying about their impact on corporate profits.
What should schools actually be teaching? Happily, there are alternatives honoring copyright, which is important, but that also honor tradition, law and the greater culture.
Creative Commons' Jane Park has compiled an excellent listing of resources that educators can use to teach about copyright. I'm especially partial to the EFF's Teaching Copyright, which I've recommended to students of all ages, including some college students.
The California School Library Association should never have let itself become a handmaiden to commercial Hollywood. Perhaps, its leaders will realize that they are undermining the crucial role libraries have played in our society when they assist the copyright absolutists' agenda – because if libraries were invented today, the cartel would declare them to be both illegal and immoral.
I take some solace in a quote of the association's vice president, Glenn Warren, in the Wired story. Confronted with the inaccuracy and imbalance of the lessons, he acknowledged:
We've got some editing to do.
[Portrait of a cute cheerful girl with painted hands, isolated over white via Shutterstock.com]