Last week, after months of work, EFF launched Teaching Copyright, a balanced, fact-based curriculum for high school educators looking to discuss copyright issues in the classroom. We decided the time was right to unveil the project after the debut of the Copyright Alliance Education Foundation (CAEF), which is offering a variety of educational materials assembled by the film, music and software industries. After reviewing those materials, we thought it was crucial that educators have a real alternative.
Within hours of Teaching Copyright's launch, CAEF's executive director called us out, suggesting that our concerns about CAEF's materials reflected a lack of faith in U.S. educators because many schools had already adopted them. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact we have enormous faith in our teachers' ability to recognize a biased curriculum when they see it, which is why we wanted to give them a balanced alternative.
Consider a few of the obvious shortcomings in the CAEF materials:
First: CAEF-endorsed materials give short shrift to the fair use doctrine, which grants all creators the right to quote, transform and comment on copyrighted material without the original author's permission. CAEF mostly ignores this, and instead provides kids with misleading instructions like: "Never copy someone else’s creative work without permission from the copyright holder," and "Permission to use a copyrighted photograph for any purpose whatsoever must be obtained in advance." Other materials describe re-use as "piracy," "cyber-crime," and just plain "uncool." Teaching Copyright, in contrast, encourages students to explore both the limits on and opportunities for re-use of copyrighted materials.
Second: CAEF's discussion of peer-to-peer file-sharing is simplistic at best, and biased at worst. For example, Music-Rules suggests that teachers ask students to calculate the cost of file-sharing to the recording industry. But these calculations are based on a whole set of flawed assumptions. In other words, Music-Rules wants to co-opt math classes in order to teach bad math. Other materials, such as Lucky And Flo Fight Piracy and Donny The Downloader blur the line between education and intimidation, making sure to stress the penalties associated with illegal downloading.
Teaching Copyright, in contrast, treats the peer-to-peer file-sharing controversies as an opportunity to think about the complicated relationship between law and technology and the impact of changes in that relationship on creators and consumers. Thus, in addition to assessing the entertainment industry's concerns, students are also asked to consider the viewpoints of the creators, the government, the legal and academic communities, and the general public.
Third and finally: Perhaps the biggest flaw in the CAEF materials is how they teach these young citizens about law. Copyright education can be an extraordinary opportunity to teach kids about the dynamic, imperfect nature of law — thereby empowering them to think about ways to change and improve it. Instead, CAEF presents copyright law as a static set of unbreakable rules, to be memorized rather than understood, questioned or reformed. This generation of students will be re-writing copyright law before they hit retirement, just as previous generations have done. Teaching Copyright was designed to encourage students not only to think about the legal frameworks they have inherited, but also to think about the law they'd like to create.
We're proud of our curriculum, and we're working hard to get the word out to teachers around the nation. You can help. Please tell teachers you know about Teaching Copyright. And please consider donating to EFF today to help us continue to produce and promote material like Teaching Copyright.