In response to Monday’s posting, the Executive Director of the Copyright Alliance asserted in a comment on the posting, “we are a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization.” I don’t doubt that the organization is non-profit, and if by partisan one means whether an organization is populated mostly or entirely by Republicans, Democrats, or members of the Beer Drinker’s party, I am sure this is true too. Copyright is rarely a partisan affair in this meaning, something Lord Macaulay pointed out just before he happily trashed Serjeant Talfourd in the 1842 House of Commons debates on copyright term extension. If, however, by partisan one means espousing a consistent view on the scope of copyright, then the Alliance is thoroughly partisan. A review of its website reveals that every position it discusses as having taken is pro-protection. And that’s fine: Washington, D.C. is awash with partisan groups like this, on all sides of issues, on hundreds of topics; being partisan is in fact such groups’ very reason for existing, so it is hardly a knock to say any such group is partisan. Jack Valenti, whom I regarded with great affection and respect (see here), was fiercely and effectively partisan. (However, the claim on its website that “The Copyright Alliance represents millions of members of the creative community” gives new meaning to the word “represents.” It appears to be based on the fact that ASCAP, BMI and a few unions are members of the Alliance. But if a songwriter gives ASCAP a non-exclusive license to non-exclusively license his or her song, does this mean that every other organization ASCAP itself joins represents the songwriter too,? Apparently so, according to the Alliance).
It is the assertion of an educational role performed by the Alliance and efforts generally to provide educational material about copyright to children that I want to focus on, though. Here is what the Copyright Alliance says on its website:
For Educators It’s never too early to learn the value of copyright. In fact, every time a child takes crayon to paper, he or she has created a copyrighted work, but how many know the rights they’ve just earned? Educators across the country recognize the value of incorporating an understanding of copyright into lesson plans, but the resources haven’t always been readily available. The Copyright Alliance, as part of its educational mission, aims to identify valuable curriculum guides and other educational resources and make those resources available to educators.
You will find some materials here, and more will be added.
This cheery passage makes me think of my six year old twins (today is their birthday), happily drawing on their table in the playroom. But I doubt my twins are thinking of copyright, even with me as their father. The Alliance’s website does not contain educational materials at all, though. It performs no educational role in developing them, either it seems. Instead, the Alliance’s site merely links to sites of its members. These sites include Music Rules! which concerns “songlifters” (by alliance member RIAA), “Donny the Downloader” (by Alliance member ASCAP), and materials “Illegal File Sharing” of videos (by alliance member MPAA). This is “education” of a distinct type; equating copyright education overwhelmingly with stopping file sharing (the Music Rules! plan does discuss briefly some permissible personal uses). Crayon drawers are nowhere to be seen.
A similar effort in 2006 in Canada (by a different group) took the approach of a superhero, Captain Copyright, who would teach respect for copyright. Captain Copyright drew this response from the Canadian Library Association:
The most disturbing aspect of the Captain Copyright advertising campaign is the targeting of children with propaganda-style tools. Advertising Standards Canada, a self-regulating trade association, reminds us that advertising to children is illegal in Quebec and its Canadian Code of Advertising Standards provides guidelines for the rest of Canada. It explicitly states that exploiting children's credulity, lack of experience or sense of loyalty is forbidden. As an entity mandated by law, Access Copyright should be held to the highest standards of accuracy and should carefully reconsider Captain Copyright in light of the Code. CLA believes that any copyright advocacy initiative intended to be used directly by children or in the classroom by teachers should be developed, if required, by the institutions which represent the education community, like the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, the Canadian Teachers' Federation, and with the library community. Captain Copyright is a unilateral initiative on the part of Access Copyright and reflects its own perception, not the broader Canadian perspective.
The librarians were hardly alone in their criticism of these efforts, leading to this announcement in February of this year from the Captain Copyright folks:
In August 2006, we took the Captain Copyright website offline so that we could revise its content in response to the criticisms the site had received. We worked extensively on revising the original lessons and we commissioned someone with expertise on the creation of educational materials to prepare new lessons on the Creative Commons, fair dealing and the public domain. We also sought the assistance of an advisory panel of educators and copyright experts with a range of perspectives on copyright, and every lesson was submitted to them for rigorous review. We then incorporated their revisions to the lessons so that they could be thoroughly teacher-tested. Despite the significant progress we made on addressing the concerns raised about the original Captain Copyright initiative, as well as the positive feedback and requests for literally hundreds of lesson kits from teachers and librarians, we have come to the conclusion that the current climate around copyright issues will not allow a project like this one to be successful. It is difficult for organizations to reach agreement on copyright issues at this time and we know that, in the face of continuing opposition, the materials will not be used in the classroom. Under these circumstances there is no point in our continuing to work on this project. We began this project because teachers told us that copyright had become too much a part of their students’ daily lives for it not to be taught in the classroom, and they told us they needed a teaching tool to help them do it. We still believe that creating such a tool is important, but we also now believe that no single organization can take the lead on such an initiative. We truly hope that there will come a time when the copyright community – including educators, librarians and copyright collectives – can work together to provide a unbiased teaching tool that provides teachers and students with a balanced view of copyright.
To the Canadians’ credit, after an initial stumble, they appear to have made some attempt to provide a balanced viewpoint, one with actual educational objectives. Alas, that wholesome effort drew fatal opposition, but from whom? I don’t have the answer; perhaps some of my Canadian readers can fill in the story. It would be sad indeed if a balanced educational plan for copyright was unachievable, especially where there is a will to develop one, rather than merely spew out partisan propaganda at our children. If education of children is important, why isn’t it important to sit down until balanced materials are achieved?
Next posting is Monday. L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem, v L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi